• New Five-Star Review for Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan

    July 21, 2017 // 6 Comments

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    Posted in: Hooper's War




    This review comes from A Girl Who Reads:

    Nate Hooper fought in Japan in World War II, fighting on the ground and following the orders of his superiors. Along the way, he lost fellow combatants and his innocence, though superiors don’t care much about the loss of spirit and hope. They care about orders followed, Japanese opponents fought, and painting a heroic picture for those left behind in the United States.

    The story is told in reverse chronology; it opens in 2017 with Nate returning to Japan, then we go backward in sections to see the events referenced, interspersed with Nate’s musings in 2017, First, we see the battle at Kyoto, then the “daring escape” his superiors talked about and changed the nature of in reports, the train station attack, the fields, etc. We keep going further and further back, seeing the origin of his disillusionment. Death is never pretty, but he sees it in various kinds of ways. It’s vividly described, and brings home the horror of war on soldiers. We also get scenes from the perspective of Sergeant Eichi Nakagawa, and the horrors are the same for Japanese soldiers.

    “…the opposite of fear out there isn’t safety, it’s love. And you do insane things for those you love, including die for them.” (page 102)

    War, as seen on the ground, is one that carves out humanity in pieces. Battles aren’t grandiose, and the losses are glossed over for the media back home. It’s an entirely different world, one where the casual cruelties are rewarded. Saving lives is actually punished if that goes against orders, further lessening the hope in the field.

    “War isn’t a place that makes men better. Flawed men turn bad, then bad men turn evil. So the darkest secret of my war wasn’t the visceral knowledge that people can be filthy and horrible. It was the visceral knowledge that I could be filthy and horrible.” (page 115)

    The end of the book feels melancholy, and Van Buren adds commentary to explain the historical significance of the events he chose to portray in the novel. This is definitely a book that will haunt you long after you put it down.

    Buy Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan now, in paperback or Kindle, at Amazon!



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    Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

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  • Six Months of Trump: Where Things Stand

    July 20, 2017 // 17 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Trump



    I awoke this morning to find it was not Judgement Day but simply morning.


    A little cloudy, might have some showers later. Things looked pretty normal. I ran the usual checks to make sure I hadn’t awoken in some alternate reality, that I had not slept through a time vortex and risen in a world run by super-intelligent apes, that sort of thing. Nope, regular everything. The milk in the fridge that was a little on edge yesterday morning was kinda ripe today.


    Trump’s been in office for six months as of today and everything is… sorta normal. He’s a crappy president, pretty much as we expected. I don’t see he’s done much good, but on the other hand looking over what the media, academics, and those who speak for us all, Colbert, Meyers, Samantha Bee, and George Takei have been predicting would have gone down by now, all and all things are not so bad.


    — No nuclear wars.

    — No wars with China, Russia, Iran or North Korea. Same wars Bush and Obama started or escalated still going strong.

    — No diplomatic breakdown because of Taiwan. No change in U.S. “Two China Policy.”

    — NATO and alliances with Australia, Japan, etc., intact.

    — No mass resignations among government employees. CIA, NSA, and State Department still open for business.

    — The people the media has been non-stop predicting would be fired/quit/indicted — Reince, McMaster, Mattis, Spicer, Ivanka, et al — are all still around.

    — Trump has not annexed the Sudetenland.

    — No coups.

    — 1st Amendment, and others, still nicely in place.

    — No impeachment, no invocation of Emoluments Clause, no use of the 25th Amendment, no formal charges of treason.

    — No roundups of POC, women, journalists, or LGBTQ people. Deportations are still below Obama-era headcount of 2.5 million deported, highest under any presidency.

    — Stock market did not crash. Doing well, actually.

    — No psychological break down by Trump leading to anarchy, war, etc.

    — No signs of capitulation to Putin. We still own Alaska.

    — U.S. justice system and courts still open and functioning.

    — Absolutely nothing has changed regarding abortion rights, whatever the f*ck our healthcare system is, marriage equality… nope, steady state.


    In the interest of presenting a balanced view of events, here is a hysterical rebuttal to the points made above:

    It’s too early! OMG, it has only been six months. How’s the Kool-Aid nazi lover? As a white man of privilege who isn’t gay what do you know anyway about suffering, so f*ck you. The Resistance has held Trump back for now by posting on Facebook, but what about tomorrow?!? Luckily we marched with pussy hats or things would have been worse. You don’t know how bad it is because most of the changes are hidden. America’s prestige abroad is trashed and Andrea Merkel is leading the Free World! Putin’s playing 3-D chess and just waiting to make his move. Any day now Robert Mueller is going to announce ____ and the sh*t will come down. We are nasty, fierce, persistent, and have excellent vocabularies. And did you see what anonymous sources told the NYT today? At least Dr. Who is a woman, so that means Hillary really won, doesn’t it?




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  • Trump, Russia, the Birth Certificate and the Election That Will Not Conclude

    July 18, 2017 // 38 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Trump


    Too many people, many driven by racism, refused to accept the election of Barack Obama in 2008.

    The votes were clear, the will of the people overwhelming, but to minds blocked by disbelief, there had to be another way to prevent Obama from taking office or failing that, from legitimately exercising power.

    Enter the birth certificate. What could be more disqualifying than Obama not being an American citizen? Obama had already “admitted” his father was not an American citizen, and there were all those photos of him as a young man in Indonesia. The accusations played to the fear that someone not loyal to the United States (might he be a Muslim, too?!?) would occupy its highest office.

    The silliness of the idea that Obama was not an American citizen still lurks in some of the danker corners of the Internet. More significantly, the concept the birth certificate unleashed — maybe the election wasn’t ever going to be over — is now more than background noise. It is a real threat to democracy.



    Trump Won

    Like the Big Bang, disbelief that Trump actually won has been exploding ever-outward since November 8. The idea that the Russians had somehow “hacked” him into office surfaced even before the final vote tally. But first there were the recounts (the numbers couldn’t be right; they were.) The voter fraud (there wasn’t.) The Electoral College needed to be circumvented (it couldn’t be.) Or maybe actually it was the popular vote which mattered just this one time and Clinton should move into the White House (Nope, people who believe this failed 9th grade civics badly.)

    Following the Inauguration (with several prominent Democrats refusing to “normalize” it by attending), action overnight shifted to impeachment; when can things get started? Impeachment would be based on (as the media stumbled to remember 9th grade Civics) the Emoluments Clause, the Hatch Act, the Logan Act, denying the authority of the courts over immigration, nepotism, Chinese trademarks, sweetheart deals with dictators, Mafia money in real estate, firing the FBI director, or obstruction of justice. The 25th Amendment!

    Once-cogent pundits like Lawrence Tribe and Robert Reich morphed into human cottage industries proclaiming the impeach-ability of various Tweets, actions, and statements. Spiderman, save us!

    But with the apparent lack of traction behind any of those things, the boil burst into a giant pile of… Russia.



    Those Taxing Russians

    Then there are are demands for The Tax Returns.

    Beginning deep back into the campaign and continuing through today, Democrats and the media have created a strawman out of Trump’s taxes, insinuating smoking guns of shady Russian money must abound. Trump’s refusal to release the documents, for whatever reason, is twisted to be further proof of the explosive secrets they must hold (“nothing to fear, nothing to hide!”.)

    Unless each of us personally has the chance to comb through Trump’s 1040’s, no one will ever know The Truth.

    Left unsaid is that while Democratic politicians, media pundits, and the two of us have not seen Trump’s taxes, the IRS, FBI and Treasury Department have. Trump and his myriad corporate entities have been filing taxes forever, and have been subject to audits on an ongoing basis. Any investigations at the FBI and/or other agencies either have access to or can seek access to Trump’s taxes through subpoena, as well as decades of other financial disclosures and records. The pros have been at work for some time, literally since the 1980s or earlier, and nothing has emerged. That has been left out of the reporting on this issue.

    What the media seems to desire is a bit of paper showing Trump conducted some business with someone somewhere in Russia. The value of such a document remains questionable in proving… something bad. It is hard to imagine anyone involved in New York City real estate not working with Russian money at some point. Long before all this was the focus of such intense media attention, the New York Times wrote a non-partisan, deeply researched series of articles on foreign money in general, and Russian money in the specific, flooding the New York market. The Times concluded, without reference to Trump at all, that that “flight of wealth accrued in the chaotic capitalism of post-Soviet Russia has been a powerful force behind the luxury condominium boom reordering New York City’s skyline.” Russian money in New York real estate is, well, sort of normal.

    On the political side, contacts between foreign ambassadors and influential Americans happen constantly, sought by both sides. Our American ambassadors and State Department diplomats are specifically charged with building such contacts overseas. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who also met the Russian ambassador, did so at the Republican Convention this summer. The ambassador was attending, along with 80 other foreigners, as a guest of the Obama State Department, which brings foreign diplomats to the conventions to “witness democracy.” And yes, every country weaves its spies into that heady mix. Much has been made of the fact that the Russian ambassador has met with many people connected with the Trump campaign. It’s actually sort of normal.

    Or maybe none of this matters — Trump will be impeached for the next thing that happens! Yeah, that one!



    So… What Happened?

    If we blow away all the smoke, what is left?

    A set of more-or-less agreed on facts is nearly non-existent; even the official existence of actual investigation(s) is mostly based on leaks and general statements.

    Someone, probably connected in some way to some entity in Russia, exposed emails from inside the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign that reflected badly on how the Committee treated Bernie Sanders. How that did or did not help send Trump into the White House is pretty close to unanswerable.

    Separate from that, people connected to Trump had various interactions with Russians. Trump’s initial appointee as national security adviser, Michael Flynn, took money from Russian TV station RT.com, and lied about meeting the Russian ambassador. Neither action is illegal, though most people would agree neither was proper, and both served as grounds for his firing.

    Trump’s son(s) had a meeting with Russian persons to talk about what dirt they had on Hillary. They didn’t have any dirt. Not illegal, not smart, but not grounds for impeaching anyone.

    Where things get sticky is validating the next step: that some or all of those things and others — the leaked emails, Trump corporate entities doing business with Russia, contacts with Russian officials, Flynn’s lies — add up to the fact that a large number of Americans, arguably almost all of whom did not vote for Trump, believe now in some way Trump was helped into the White House by the Russians, and in fact may be fully under the control of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Decisions in the Oval Office itself are being made, they believe, based on how they can favor the Russians, not the United States. That’s a helluva accusation. It could impeach a president. It could destroy the Republican party. It could negate the 2016 election.



    Saving Democracy by Destroying It

    And so a frothy mix of Democrats and a media that by and large favored Candidate Clinton has emerged to prove that the president of the United States was helped into office by a hostile foreign government and/or is controlled in office by that government, claims unprecedented in American history. Maybe any nation’s history.

    First tries were offered to the intelligence agencies to “save” American democracy by unearthing information so unambiguous underlying a number of ambiguous acts that it would lead to a swift impeachment. Early in Trump’s tenure many on the left looked to the NSA or CIA to reveal intercepts that would take Trump down with his own words. Hopes were raised when some information almost certainly from intel sources was leaked to the Washington Post, and led directly to Flynn’s firing. A murky foreign intelligence service-connected “dossier” implying the Trump campaign interacted with Russian spies, flavored with some salacious details of golden showers, appeared, but was never shown to be valid and quickly faded from view.

    Hope shifted to the FBI, who allegedly had been conducting some form of old-school G-man style investigation since July 2016. The FBI would never confirm even the existence of such an investigation into Trump himself, but his firing Comey seems to have poisoned in the minds of Democrats any investigation that might exist. FBI Director James Comey, last seen by many Democrats as one of two individuals (Putin is the other, of course) who caused their candidate to lose to Trump in the first place, was reborn as Washington’s Last Honest Man.



    Enter the Special Prosecutor

    So with the FBI no longer trustworthy enough to help impeach Trump, enter a special prosecutor. Robert Mueller will impeach Trump.

    A special prosecutor is a lawyer appointed to investigate and possibly prosecute a specific potential wrongdoing for which a conflict of interest exists for the usual authority. So, Comey’s replacement, even though he would not be doing the prosecuting (and neither would have Comey) can’t be seen as independent enough to do the job. You need someone special.

    The people now strongly favoring a special prosecutor do have a few wires crossed. No matter who is in charge, the FBI only gathers evidence and does not determine whether a crime appears to have been committed. That decision rests with a prosecutor going to a Grand Jury, typically the Attorney General or someone below him in the Department of Justice. The desire of Democrats is a special prosecutor would do much more in this case, actually lead the FBI and others’ investigation. They would be “independent,” except that the system does not actually create a fully free-standing judicial system, and the special prosecutor in fact still reports to the Attorney General, the nation’s chief law enforcement official, in this case Jeff Sessions, who has himself recused himself from all matters Russia.

    That means a Special Prosecutor would instead report to Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who helped fire Comey, and a Trump appointee himself. Rosenstein is able to veto the special counsel on decisions he doesn’t agree with, as well as request explanations “for any investigative or prosecutorial step.” Rosenstein would also be able to fire the special prosecutor.



    A Congressional Commission

    So even a special prosecutor would be under the authority of a Trump appointee. So maybe what’s needed, one hears some muttering, is not the NSA, CIA, FBI or a special prosecutor, but a Congressional commission. A commission like the ones Congress created to investigate the Kennedy assassination, or 9/11.

    Unlike the NSA and CIA, who look for espionage and full-on treason, or the FBI and a (special) prosecutor who look for actual crimes, a Congressional commission can just… look. And that seems to be the whole point, to set in motion a process that will keep questions about Russia and Trump in the news through at least the 2018 midterm elections, maybe beyond, freed from the complexities of legal standards of guilt and innocence.

    In the words of one prominent proponent of such a commission:

    A special prosecutor… seeks crimes. The criminal law is a heavy tool, and for that reason it is thickly encased in protections for accused persons.

    A select committee of Congress or an independent commission of nonpartisan experts established by Congress can ask the broad question: What happened? A select committee or an independent commission can organize its inquiry according to priority, leaving the secondary and tertiary issues to the historians. A select committee or an independent commission is not barred from looking at events in earlier years statutes of limitations. A select committee or an independent commission seeks truth.

    This is an intelligence question with policy implications, not a prosecutorial question with legal implications. For example, if Russia preferred Trump because Putin liked Trump’s pro-Russia campaign policies — well, policies can be changed. But if Russia preferred Trump because Russian entities have some financial or other hold upon him — that’s something the country would need to know now, even if no crimes were involved.



    There is No Smoking Birth Certificate

    Trump has been a public figure for decades, his actions as a real estate developer documented and reviewed by his enemies, opponents, and creditors. America’s intelligence agencies have always monitored transactions with Russia, Trump’s and everyone else’s, in detail. The New York Times and the Washington Post haven’t seen Trump’s taxes, but the IRS has, for decades. So even though Congress hasn’t passed judgement on them, law enforcement has. Meanwhile, if the FBI wants to arrest Mike Flynn or any other Trump associate for espionage they can that today, or could have in November, and implying that has not or will not happen because Comey was or is not the director is nonsense.

    Unless or until something fully unexpected emerges, there is no “birth certificate.”

    Instead, Democrats, assisted by a media that appears to have stepped over the line from watchdog to abetting conspiracy, are trying to undo an election. Their efforts are unlikely to succeed, as they did not succeed with Obama, but if you think this process won’t be used again against whoever wins in 2020, well, you’re being foolish. The clumsiness of the Obama birth certificate conspiracy, is nothing compared to the approach being tried with Trump-Russia. We’ve moved in a few months from Jill Stein demanding crowd-funded vote recounts to leaks of intelligence intercepts used to get the sitting national security advisor fired.


    People are getting more skillful at the game, learning more about the tools available. Stirring up the crowd, creating a yearning, setting a precedent that there is no need to accept the results of an election. A new political weapon has been unsheathed. America is playing with fire.




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  • How to Sustain Perpetual War (It’s Easy; Hide the Bodies)

    July 15, 2017 // 24 Comments

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    Posted in: Iraq, Military

    unclesam


    Sustaining America’s state of post-9/11 perpetual war requires skillful manipulation of the public at home. The key tool used for this purpose is the bloodless narrative, a combination of policy, falsehoods and media manipulation that creates the impression that America’s wars have few consequences, at least for Americans.

    How can the American government sustain its wars in the face of dead soldiers coming home? Why is there no outcry among the American people over these losses? The answer is the narrative of bloodless war.


    The Dead

    The bloodless war narrative’s solution to the dead is a policy of don’t look, don’t tell.

    Dick Cheney, as Secretary of Defense for George H. W. Bush, helped decide in 1991 the first Iraq War would play better if Americans did not see their fallen return home. He recalled the images of coffins from the 1989 invasion of Panama on television, transposed against the president speaking of victory, and banned media from Dover Air Force Base, where deceased American personnel would arrive from the Persian Gulf.

    The ban at Dover lasted 18 years, past George Bush 2.0 and Iraq War 2.0, overturned only in 2009, well after the casualty counts dropped off. Even then, allowing cameras at Dover was left at the discretion of the families, except of course when the president needed a blood-stirring photo op. Obama took one just before ordering the surge in Afghanistan.

    Death, when it is reluctantly acknowledged, must still follow the bloodless narrative as closely as possible. Death must be for a good cause, freedom if possible, “for his buddies” later when public opinion weakens.

    There is no better example in recent times than the death of Pat Tillman, America’s once-walking propaganda dream. Tillman was a professional football player making a $3.6 million salary. Following 9/11, he gave that all up, and volunteered for combat. When he died in Afghanistan, the Army told his family he’d been killed by enemy fire after courageously charging up a hill to protect his fellow soldiers.

    It was of course the right thing to say to support the narrative, but it was a lie.

    A month later, the Pentagon notified Tillman’s family he had actually died as a result of friendly fire. The month placed the non-narrative news safely after Tillman’s memorial service and in the fog of faded media interest. Later investigations revealed the Army likely knew the death was by friendly fire within days.

    The Physically Wounded
    For all the trouble the dead cause to the bloodless narrative, the wounded are even messier. They still walk around, sometimes speak to journalists, and, well, do not always look bloodless.

    The Honolulu side of Waikiki beach is anchored by a hotel run by the Department of Defense as a low-cost vacation destination for servicepeople. While some of the grounds are public by Hawaiian law, the hotel itself is off limits.

    I used to have a government ID that let me in. Inside, who is a soldier? The buff bodies stand out against the beached whale look more popular among regular tourists. The odd-patterned tans – browned faces with pale white limbs – betray a recent trip to the Middle East.

    But sometimes it is a missing limb on a 20-year-old, or a face that looks like raw bacon. Could’ve been a car wreck or a factory fire, but I doubt it. The burns sketched precisely where the helmet had, and had not, been, a map of pain.

    That’s on the inside. When we as outsiders see images of the wounded, they instead follow the narrative. Brave troopers, with their state-of-the-art prosthetic limbs, are shown skiing, surfing or working out. Some featured amputees even demand to return to active duty. They show off their new limbs, some decorated with decals from their favorite sports teams. They are brave and they are strong.

    The inside story is again very different. A recent book by Ann Jones, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars, fills in what the narrative omits. As a summation, Jones offers the haiku of one military trauma nurse: “Amputees up to the waist. No arms. No legs. No genitals. Age 21 or 22. We cry.”


    The Mentally Wounded
    Military suicides have made it through the screen of bloodless narrative, but just barely, thanks to the Hollywood-ization of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

    Where we need clarity, we get tropes, such as the freaked-out-at-home scenes in Hurt Locker and American Sniper. Not to say those things don’t happen (they do) but to say those types of scenes are incomplete, giving enough info to arouse sympathy without actually being too alarming. As Ann Jones points out, such treatment of PTSD is “useful in raising citizen sympathy for soldiers, defusing opposition to Washington’s wars, and generally medicalizing problems that might raise inconvenient political and moral issues.”

    At the same time, another non-Hollywood narrative bubbles just below the surface, that some vets are exaggerating or outright faking it. PTSD inherits all of our stigmas toward mental illness, and that dilutes the bad news.

    One way of not knowing is not to look for the answers at all. The narrative says we should be like Mafia bosses’ kids, who never ask what Daddy does for a living despite our big house and fancy cars.


    When the Narrative Fails
    During the year I spent in Iraq, the only deaths experienced by the Army units I was embedded with were suicides.

    The death I was most familiar with was a young Private, who put his assault rifle into his mouth. No one back home saw what I saw, because they were not supposed to see: the fan spray of blood and brain on the wall, already being washed off as I arrived to look.

    These things are not unspeakable, we just don’t want to talk about them, and the bloodless narrative says we don’t have to. That keeps it alive. Because when the narrative fails, the wars tend to end.

    For example, in 1969, Life magazine published a famous edition consisting entirely of portraits of the Americans who died in Vietnam that week. Many subscribers canceled, but many more looked for the first time outside the narrative. The war found its end.

    In another conflict, President Bill Clinton pulled American troops out of Somalia after a photo showed crowds cheering a dead American soldier dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. That image dogged American war mongering until it could be cleaned up by the bloodless narrative of Gulf War 1.0.

    We are no longer likely to see those nasty pictures. The military has become more skillful at manipulating the media, even as the media has become more compliant. In the X-rated world of war, most of the media refuses to budge from family fare.

    The military-media symbiosis is just one more tool that feeds the narrative. As long as Americans are convinced of the bloodlessness of perpetual war, the wars will go on.



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  • Top Five Havana, Cuba Travel Tips

    July 14, 2017 // 12 Comments

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    Posted in: Uncategorized



    Though the rules governing travel to Cuba by Americans are expected to tighten back up this fall, that shouldn’t stop you from traveling there. I just got back from Havana, and the place is well-worth what little extra effort it takes to get there. Here are a few things I learned that will help your trip…



    1) You can’t use U.S. credit or ATM cards. You have to bring cash.

    You really do. I know that one blog said you could use your U.S. debit card, and your friend’s cousin’s old boyfriend claims he hit up ATMs across the island, but because of the American government’s six decade long economic embargo on Cuba, U.S. folks cannot do any business electronically. Your credit cards and ATM cards will not work. Nope. No way. Most everyone else, no worries, ATMs are available, at least in bigger cities. But as an American you have to arrive in Cuba with the money you will spend, in your pocket, in cash. You simply cannot access your money at home (maybe via Western Union if mommy will wire you) from Cuba. Scour the web for prices for your style of travel, add some extra for extras, and roll up to Cuba with a (literal) bankroll.



    2) Changing money (CUC versus CUP)

    With the exception of at the few duty free shops available at the airport as you exit Cuba, all tanned and happy, everything you buy will be bought in one of the two local currencies. So you’ll have to change your foreign money. U.S. dollars (alone) are penalized for the exchange (it’s all politics, friends) at 10%, so it is better to get Euros, Canadian dollars or even Yen outside Cuba, and then exchange those.

    It is relatively quick and easy to change money at the airport upon arrival. You already have your passport with you, and the workers there are used to the whole messy process even though you may not be. Change what you think you’ll need for the whole trip at once. Otherwise, once in town, changing money means either a lower rate at the big hotels that may help you, or a typically long wait at a local bank where clerks seem to draw mysterious strength from working s-l-o-w-ly and enjoying watching you burn away your vacation hours in their lobby.

    There are two currencies circulating, convertible pesos (known as CUC) and “local” money (known as CUP.) Do some Googling on the difference. The short answer is CUC is used nearly anywhere you’ll be as a tourist, is desired by local people as a tip or payment, and is what you will receive anyway when you exchange foreign currency. The coolest part about the local money, the CUP, is the three peso note has Che’s picture on it, a great souvenir. You can change any leftover CUC — but not CUP — back into foreign currency when you depart Cuba.


    3) Taxis and negotiations

    A lot of things in Cuba are negotiable, none more than taxis. For practical, casual, tourist purposes, there is no such thing as public transportation. You’ll travel around by taxi. They have no meters. Taxi drivers have been doing this longer than you have.

    So research a bit and get a general idea of what prices are from the airport into old Havana, or from Vedado (a popular AirBnB location) into town. For the latter, we paid at times US$5 and US$20 for the same trip. Nicer cars, time of day, negotiating skills, official taxi or not, and maybe just luck all affected price. If you are a group, make sure the price you settle on (and settle before you get in the cab!) is for the whole group. Some unscrupulous drivers will offer a group of say four a low price, only to demand x4 that price upon arrival. Negotiations are soft-style, a smile, a little sigh, a lower number, another smile, that kind of thing. You’re not Liam Neeson trying to get his daughter back, you’re on vacation.



    4) Spanish words, every one helps

    Speaking of negotiations, every word you know in Spanish will improve your trip to Cuba. English is not widely spoken, and in most cases you will have a better/easier/smoother/more culturally mindful time if you can tell drivers your destination in Spanish, and settle a bill in Spanish. So go, right now I’ll wait, and write down the Spanish words for 5, 10, 15, 20, 25… and so on. Know the street address of where you’re staying in Spanish, and thrown in an hour of review online somewhere for a few handy phrases. It’ll all pay off. Tourists who already can communicate well in Spanish are in for a real treat because…


    5) Hit the Beach (Playa de Este)

    …because the Cuban people I met were uniformly friendly, warm, and interested in chatting. We were held back only when language walls were reached. Not everyone was willing to talk politics, but if you want to, so do some others. Local baseball fans seem well-informed about what was happening in the U.S., and young people have reasonable access to the web and are aware of music and fashion trends, at least in Miami and the Bronx.

    One can’t miss way to mingle is to hit the beach. About 30 minutes’ taxi ride outside of Havana is the Playa de Este area, a string of great beaches. Pick one (we liked Santa Maria), go on a Sunday, and it will be mostly Cubans of all types. Go on a dull Monday afternoon, and there still will be plenty of local people. Everyone is in a good mood, beer and rum may be involved, and it was easy to strike up a conversation. The beach trip also gives a short-term visitor a (albeit) brief glimpse outside the city itself.

    You can also easily find people to talk with at Havana’s outdoor WiFi spots, as well as the usual places like bars, cafes, restaurants and the like.



    Bonus

    Otherwise, I encountered no crime, and never felt threatened or afraid. Drink bottled water. Wear good walking shoes, and sunscreen like it’s the tropics because it is. Bring pocket tissues as some public toilets don’t have toilet paper. Enjoy the fact that there are no fast food places cluttering up the streets.

    And say hello for me to the Cuban people. I already miss being in their company.




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  • Trump’s Bypasses Media via Twitter — Irrelevant!

    July 13, 2017 // 17 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump



    Donald Trump discovered the Holy Grail of media relations: the ability with a 140-character tweet to ignore the Fourth Estate. This is brass-knuckled political power that at a minimum pushes the press another circulation drop closer to irrelevancy.


    Journalists meanwhile mockingly treat Trump’s tweets as examples of his oafishness, just as they did his bombastic stump style.

    More inchoate Trumpsplaining. Sad!

    But as the media missed the populist appeal of Donald Trump right up until election night pushed it into their faces, so are they missing the popular power he is wielding over them via social media. This is no joke, except maybe on the journalists whose credibility is already a laughing matter.

    While Obama claimed the title of first “internet president” by virtue of his online fund-raising, brilliant datamining, and seeding of the 24-hour news cycle, the bulk of his efforts were essentially repurposing technology to do things politicians have always done, albeit faster and better.

    Trump discovered something bigger online: he doesn’t really need much from journalists. Social media for Trump is not simply a display board to pin policy statements on, as others use it. Social media allows Trump to bypass everything and speak to individual citizens, and then force the traditional media to amplify what he says as part of its thirst for “content.” There really isn’t any news anymore when Trump has it on Twitter as his own scoop.

    The media is playing defense!

    And if the media ignores the tweets thinking they can starve the troll? The audience that advertisers depend on can just go read the tweets themselves (Twitter accepts advertising, too.) In a period where the credibility of the press is already in the toilet after many journalists epically failed to accurately and fairly report on the election, many viewers may prefer to go to the source anyway. Exactly how much reach outside its bubble does the media think it really has anymore?

    Oh well, there’s still weather and sports to report.


    Every president who’s left a record expressed some level of disdain for the media of his day. But no president previously could afford to ignore, or truly anger, the press. Influence, of course: presidents would leak juicy stuff to one reporter, cut off another, but at the end of the day the media and the president needed each other to do their respective jobs.

    A president-elect once upon a time would have had to be careful chiding a columnist for the New York Times, for fear of the editorial page. Trump treats reporters with contempt because in his mind, all they really do of value is retweet him.

    Trump has also mastered the dark art of internet logic. His tweets often read like the “Comments” section of some blog. Make a bold, unsupported statement that may or may not be true, then demand challengers provide proof you’re wrong. Dispute sources, not facts – X can’t be true because it was reported by a pro-Democrat outlet. Attack ad hominem. Then stand back and disavow what happens, up to and including death threats. All that bruised ego guardians-of-the-people stuff from the pundits? Label it just another example of media arrogance and elitism.

    The president-elect has also understood the value of moving beyond talking points. Express things in #ShortForm. No policy paper ever went viral.

    Social media Trump-style also offers an unprecedented ability to control the agenda at will, without requiring a sympathetic editor to run a puff piece like in the good old days. Should a troublesome story appear, a handful of bombastic tweets changes the conversation on Trump’s schedule. Trump isn’t communicating, he’s dueling. All in real, real time; Trump is no stranger to sending out 140 characters of white noise at 3 a.m.


    With its reliance on friends, followers, and sharing, social media also creates a personal bond among Trump and individual Americans, something not really experienced since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Depression-era fireside chats. As those radio broadcasts brought Roosevelt into the living room, Trump’s tweets put his policies, opinions, and rants into the same feed as Aunt Sally. That creates intimacy, and by association (who doesn’t like Aunt Sally?), may increase trust.

    And make no mistake about it; unlike most politicians’ robo-social media, Trump’s tweets come from Trump. It’s him talking to you. People write back in the first person, using the informal language of the web, and Trump retweets messages (and famously, videos) from his followers. The medium is the message and both are Trump. No other politician today can pull this off; it has to be real, organic, to work.

    This is a powerful tool. It played a significant role in the election. It allows Trump to choose how, when, or if, he wants to engage with the traditional media. Who can make the argument (perhaps in 140 characters) that pulling back is in his interest?

       

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  • Abandoned by U.S. Government, Irradiated Servicemembers Turn to Japan for Help

    July 11, 2017 // 24 Comments

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    Posted in: Embassy/State, Military

    fukushima


    It was a rescue mission, but one that years later turned the tables on victim and rescuer. Abandoned by their own government, American servicemembers who came to the aid of Japanese disaster victims will now benefit from a fund set up for them by a former prime minister.

    Following a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011 in Japan, it quickly became clear the rescue work needed far outstripped the capabilities of Japan’s Self Defense Forces. The tsunami, whose waves reached heights of 130 feet, crippled the Fukushima nuclear plant, shutting down its cooling system and causing a nuclear meltdown that devastated the immediate area and at one point threatened to send a radioactive cloud over much of the nation.

    Operation Tomadachi

    The United States quickly dispatched an entire aircraft carrier group, centered on the USS Ronald Reagan, some 25 ships, for what came to be known as Operation Tomadachi (Friend). The U.S. provided search and rescue, and medical aid. Thousands of American military personnel assisted Japanese people in desperate need.

    But it did not take long before the problems started.


    The Aftermath

    Military personnel soon began showing signs of radiation poisoning, including symptoms rare in young men and women: rectal bleeding, thyroid problems, tumors, and gynecological bleeding. Within three years of the disaster, young sailors began coming down with leukemia, and testicular and brain cancers. Hundreds of U.S. military personnel who responded to Fukushima reported health problems related to radiation.

    Some of those affected had worked in the area of the nuclear disaster, some had flown over it, many had been aboard ships that drew water out of the contaminated ocean to desalinate for drinking. All personnel were denied any special compensation by the U.S. government, who referred back to Japanese authorities’ reports of relatively low levels of radiation, and to the military’s own protective efforts.

    In a final report to Congress, the Department of Defense claimed personnel were exposed to less radiation than a person would receive during an airplane flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo. The Defense Department stated due to the low levels of radiation “there is no need for a long-term medical surveillance program.”

    However, five years after the disaster and more than a year after its final report, a Navy spokesperson admitted that 16 U.S. ships from the relief effort remain contaminated. However, the Navy continued, “the low levels of radioactivity that remain are in normally inaccessible areas that are controlled in accordance with stringent procedures.”



    Other Parts of the U.S. Government Reacted Very Differently to the Threat

    On March 16, five days after the meltdown, the State Department authorized the voluntary departure from Japan of eligible family members of government personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and other State Department facilities.

    Ten days later, the U.S. military moved over 7,000 military family members out of Japan under what was also called a “voluntary departure.” The effort, codenamed Operation Pacific Passage, also relocated close to 400 military pets.

    And around the same time, the American Embassy repeated a Japanese government warning to parents about radioactive iodine being detected in the Tokyo drinking water supply. Tokyo is about 150 miles away from the Fukushima disaster site.



    U.S. Servicemembers Sue the Nuclear Plant Owner

    After receiving no help from their own government, in 2013 a group of U.S. servicemembers (now numbering 400; seven others have died while the lawsuit winds its way through the courts) filed a lawsuit against the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO, the owner of the nuclear plant) seeking more than two billion dollars.

    The suit contends TEPCO lied about the threat to those helping out after the nuclear disaster, withholding some information and downplaying the dangers. The suit requests $40 million in compensatory and punitive damages for each plaintiff. It also requests a fund for health monitoring and medical expenses of one billion dollars.

    It is unclear when the lawsuit will reach a decision point, one which, if it implicates TEPCO, will then begin another long legal journey through the appeals process. A resolution will take years.



    Former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi Steps Up

    However, while the U.S. government seemingly abandoned its servicemembers, and TEPCO hides behind lawyers, one unlikely person has stepped up to offer at least some monetary help with victims’ medical bills: former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

    Koizumi left office five years before the Fukushima disaster, but has what many feel is a sense of national guilt over how the Americans were treated. In May 2016, Koizumi broke down in tears as he made an emotional plea of support for U.S. Navy sailors beset by health problems, saying “U.S. military personnel who did their utmost in providing relief are now suffering from serious illnesses. We cannot ignore the situation.”

    The former prime minister had become a vocal opponent of nuclear energy after the Fukushima meltdown. He responded to a request from a group supporting the TEPCO lawsuit plaintiffs and flew to the United States to meet with the veterans.

    Koizumi later told reporters he has set up a special fund to collect private donations for the former service members, with the goal of collecting one million dollars. Koizumi has already raised $400,000 through lecture fees.

    “I felt I had to do something to help those who worked so hard for Japan,” he said. “Maybe this isn’t enough, but it will express our gratitude, that Japan is thankful.”



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  • Hooper’s War and Moral Injury: Sometimes the Pain is Fair

    July 9, 2017 // 7 Comments

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    Posted in: Hooper's War



    “My guilt will never go away,” one former Marine explained. “There is a significant portion of me that doesn’t believe it should be allowed to go away, that this pain is fair.”

    Somewhere in that sentence I found the voice of Lieutenant Nate Hooper, the main character in my new book, Hooper’s War, A Novel of WWII Japan.


    I wanted to write about what happens to people in war, combatants and civilians alike. The need to tell that story grew in large part out of my own experiences in Iraq, where I spent a year embedded as a U.S. government civilian employee with a combat unit, and where I witnessed two soldier suicides. As I broadened my research, I found myself speaking with more and more veterans who suffered in ways they had a hard time describing but which they wrestled with God over everyday.

    They seemed to be trying out the words for the first time as they told me they went away with the wartime conceit “we’re the good guys,” and then spoke of a depth of guilt and shame when that good guy idea did not survive the test of events. Sometimes they were articulate like; sometimes their voices were blank paper.

    I came to know this as moral injury. The term is fairly new, especially outside of military circles, but the idea is as old as war, when people sent into conflict find their sense of right and wrong tested. As they violate deeply held convictions by doing something (such as killing in error), or failing to do something (such as not reporting a war crime), they suffer an injury to their core being. Think Tim O’Brien’s iconic Vietnam War book, The Things They Carried, or films like William Wyler’s 1946 The Best Years of Our Lives and Oliver Stone’s 1986 Platoon. As beings with a complex sense of right and wrong, it follows that that sense can be broken.


    Society once expressed skepticism toward such ideas, calling sufferers cowards, or dismissing them, saying it’s all in their heads. Yet today sister illnesses to moral injury such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are widely acknowledged.

    The two afflictions are often co-morbid. Moral injury, however, occurs at the intersection of psychology and spirituality, and so, in a sense, is all in someone’s head. Moral injury applies guilt and/or shame as a penalty. PTSD is more physical, more fear-based, and includes stresses like hyper-alertness, even in the absence of threat.


    With those veterans’ voices now in my writing, it became important to set Hooper’s War outside of modern times. The things of war – decisions made in seconds that last lifetimes, balancing morality and expediency over things like torture that someone under battlefield stress thinks might save lives, accepting civilian causalities to satisfy a military objective, living in a world in which no action is ideal but avoiding decisions is impossible – have been with us forever.

    But to talk about them in a modern context, say in a novel set in Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan, means dragging a lot of 2017 politics into something I wanted readers to see as universal. “The Good War,” WWII, is a familiar enough setting, but one removed from the weight of headlines. I think in some way we can talk more about post-9/11 wars by not talking directly about post-9/11 wars.

    The setting evolved to WWII Japan, as I realized moral injury doesn’t just affect soldiers, the same as bombs and bullets don’t affect just civilians. So it was important to include civilians in my story not simply as victims or targets, but as complex participants. I was able to interview now-elderly Japanese who lived the war as children. They described the horrific choices they faced in a landscape of hunger and survival. Desperate people can be forced into desperate acts, and those too cause moral injuries that long survive the act itself. Sometimes things like that don’t end until the sufferers do. I learned moral injury is a debt that has to be settled, one way or another.


    One incident in my book, a composite, focuses on a Japanese child seeing his neighbor killed by an errant American bomb. That changes him from an innocent boy into a soldier seeking revenge. It’s as if he was radicalized, a term we use today to describe the process by which a peaceful person, almost always Muslim in 2017, becomes willing to destroy themselves as a suicide bomber. The same for Japanese combatants such as the kamikaze. Are they so different? What the boy experienced changes him. He goes from playing soldier to fighting Hooper’s war.

    As a veteran of modern conflict said to me, nothing good can come from prolonging such a war, and in my story atrocities and tragedies occur with a frequency one would expect of a fight driven by racial hatreds and profound cultural misunderstandings, where decisions routinely are right and wrong at the same time. Nevertheless, in the darkness, I placed hope as Lieutenant Nate Hooper becomes separated from his unit and has to deal on an intimately human level with that radicalized Japanese boy, indeed, deciding together a matter of life and death. The horror goes deep, but so too does the potential for overcoming it.


    Hooper’s War is written in reverse chronology. It opens with a broken, elderly Nate Hooper and tumbles through the war back to his boyhood, a literary origami. Stories of loss of innocence in war – I’m thinking Saving Private Ryan – are traditionally told the other way around, from innocence to collapse. One watches the progression downward of a man, perhaps with sympathy, perhaps with sadness at what he has become. It is progressive.

    The reverse chronology is essential to my story, and the idea of moral injury. I want the reader to see Nate Hooper as the man he ended up as, a regressive telling, as the events of a few weeks in war when he was 18 affected his whole life. We’re all responsible for the choices we make as young men and women, but Hooper is in his late 80s when he finally finds a form of redemption. He lived all those years with the things he had seen and done, and I want the reader to feel that as do those now suffering from moral injury.

    And by working backwards, where the book ends with Hooper as an innocent boy as far away in rural Ohio as one can be from Japan, it drives home the desire to return to better days, to put terrible things aside, to just get this stuff out of one’s head, what every sufferer of moral injury seeks via opioids, alcohol, forgiveness or his/her own redemption.

    That is where the reader ends up. There is a winner, of sorts, in Hooper’s War.



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  • A Letter: “Life without you has been like drinking bad whiskey by myself”

    July 7, 2017 // 9 Comments

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    Posted in: Hooper's War, Iraq



    Following my book about moral injury, memory, and loss, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, I received a cop of the following unsolicited letter. It’s reprinted here with the author’s permission.


    30 June 2017
    FOB Base Marez (Mozul)

    Dear Mark,

    Forgive me for taking so long to write to you. You died back in November, 2014, and it’s taken me all this time to write. Forgive me.

    You once told me back when I was your student at Johns Hopkins that I should “stop mourning everything all the time” — true, I see loss everywhere, and I tend towards sadness — but it’s also true that I have missed you every day since you have died. I miss talking with you. I miss reading the early drafts of your poems and essays. I miss how easily good work comes from you; even early drafts have certain glamour. I miss watching your mouth read. I miss wanting to hold your hand — strangers at church hold hands; why not us? I miss feeling like your poems were prayers, and that your readers were blessed. I miss how handsome you were; even in death, you looked too good to bury.

    Something else: I miss that, unlike most great poets, you had no compulsion to immortalize yourself. Towards the end of your life, you were not a poet writing poems; instead, you were a poet who had become his poems.

    I miss you, my friend, my mentor. Life without you has been like drinking bad whiskey by myself.

    Let me tell you why I’m writing now: I’ve fallen in love. Really. After four divorces. Who would have thought!

    After a youth of restlessness, recklessness, and utter and total irresponsibility towards my wives and kids, and a middle age filled with disappointments, I fell in love with whom I had imagined and desired, but yet didn’t know. My lover has a true substance beyond imagination and desire.

    My lover was unrecognizable until she happened. She was the long-sought beloved. And she appeared from out of nowhere; she rose from the “Black Sea” of which you have written in one of your most anthologized poems.

    Now, loving her all day long in the simplest of chores in daily life, and spooning with her all night long with one aura around our two bodies, I am free. Free. Free. Free. I am free not from wanting, but free from the person who wanted. I am free from myself alone.

    Mark, today I write to you now on an empty street in an empty city in a faraway country besieged by war. Iraq. Afghanistan. Syria. Does it matter? There are no children in the streets. There is no music filling the buildings. The buildings are in ruins. The city is devastated. Dusty rumble. Roadblocks everywhere. Snipers everywhere. The last wishes of the dead and dying dissolve in the harsh sunlight on this terrible place. The dead are often without names; they are the nameless. Their toes tagged with numbers. Here, in this city, all the horrors are intended, deliberate, man-made.

    My story here is not so dramatic, but yet I have the life I’ve always wanted. I’m doing the work I was born to do. I’m just your basic MOS 3011 grunt and Fire Team Leader who got discharged, became a national security contractor, who then got assigned to the Expeditionary Targeting Force (ETF), but who is now wanting to be a humanitarian aid worker.

    And I’m in love. Her name is Victoria. She is a Goddess.

    And this is what Victoria taught me: Heaven is not there in the imagination; it is right here, where Hell is, too. Heaven and Hell coexist, and angels and demons cohabitate. Somehow Heaven and Hell both feel the same. Why? Because things matter less than they used to matter. Only love seems to matter now.

    Love and poetry.

    And art of loving and writing poetry.

    Mark, you’ll be happy to know that, finally, I’ve stopped mourning everything all the time. After four divorces, alcohol and other addictions, assorted (and sordid) other self-destructive behaviors, anger management issues, depression, anxiety and panic disorder, etc. — you know my story — I feel reborn, like a baby in his mother’s arms.

    This is what I also know: Soon, in this war-ravaged city, buds will appear on the dead-looking limbs of the trees. The buds will become leaves. Tiny, red-tasseled flowers will appear and bloom. The blossoms will be blood-red, but not blood-red, and it will be a time for magical thinking. The dead will demand it.

    I miss you, maestro. I really miss you. Thank you for being my friend and teacher.

    Love,

    John Good Iron




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  • Review of Hooper’s War: Moral Injury the Invisible Wounds of Empire

    July 6, 2017 // 8 Comments

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    Posted in: Hooper's War




    Nozomi Hayase writes in her new review of Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan:

    British investigative journalist Robert Fisk once said, “War is a total failure of the human spirit.” If Fisk, a veteran war correspondent, exposed the cruelty of modern warfare to our face, then Van Buren, the former diplomat, with his lucid writing let the destruction of our spirit unravel in slow motion.

    His story is set in an alternate WWII with the American invasion, through a fictional firebombing of Kyoto that Van Buren created, based on eyewitness accounts of the August 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Sometimes, a metaphorical reality is more effective to reveal the truth of human affairs. In the intersection of historical facts and nonfiction, history is reawakened. We are able to see the wound of war that has been buried deep in the oblivion of our memory.


    In his allegorical retelling of WWII Japan, Van Buren illustrates this process graphically with a sensitive touch. The story unfolds through reflections of both American lieutenant Nathaniel Hooper and young Japanese sergeant Eichi Nakagawa on their experiences before, during and after the invasion. In that period of Japanese imperialism, Japanese became the emperor’s soldiers. Sergeant Nakagawa depicts the lessons from Major Yamada at the training where young men are indoctrinated with the tradition and duty to fulfill obligation to the emperor. Major Yamada told Nakagawa, “You have a mouth but you cannot say what you wish. And you have a brain but you cannot think as you wish”.

    Hooper’s War is a story of courage. It invites readers to retrieve vanished memories of human events. In multiple perspectives depicted in this novel, we are able to see the truth of war, not by a view defined by nationality, neither Japanese nor American, but simply as a human. In the breath of words that unite these souls from different shores, Van Buren asserts his own voice, bearing witness to this tragedy of Hiroshima in his soul.


    Read the full review, or buy the book today!




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  • Understanding Moral Injury in Hooper’s War

    July 3, 2017 // 10 Comments

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    Posted in: Hooper's War



    Here’s an excerpt from my new book, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, on sale now at Amazon. This excerpt is told from the perspective of the main character, Lieutenant Nate Hooper.

    I’m lucky enough to have a friend with a boat. Sitting at the stern, I watch the boat create its wake, then as we speed away the wake fades just as quick. Thinking about the war doesn’t work that way. About the best I can hope for in real life is to be able to put what happened in a box. The box stays closed most of the time.

    Some guys try and keep it shut by making life meaningless—liquor for the old ones, drugs for the young ones, a little of both for the handlestache Vietnam vets in the middle. The Friday nights drinking with the boys become Wednesday mornings drinking alone in the bathroom with the door shut. Some let that run its course and just tap out.

    But absent a few orange plastic containers next to the bathroom sink, for me, I took my neighbor’s grandson out to the zoo, made dinner, went to work, all the time the curator of some secret museum. The memories don’t go away like the people do.

    If the box pops open, some people try to push such thoughts away, stopping with just their toes in the water, thinking they’ve gone swimming. But after a while I knew I had to go into the deep end, because only there could I confront the real monster: the essence of war is not men dying, the essence of war is killing. War isn’t a place that makes men better. Flawed men turn bad, then bad men turn evil. So the darkest secret of my war wasn’t the visceral knowledge that people can be filthy and horrible. It was the visceral knowledge that I could be filthy and horrible.


    The part of Hawaii I retired to is peaceful. Some tourists, but not too many, little of the tawdry spank of Waikiki. Sometimes I get lonely for some noise though, and find myself over there, enjoying a little ice cream and a walk.

    For me the war is like a shirt I always know is there in my closet but don’t wear often. I’ll be absently out and step onto an unfamiliar path and it’ll be just the right crunch of gravel under my feet. My eyes will involuntarily lose focus for a second, and if I’m with someone they might ask, “Nate, everything okay?” and I’ll lie and smile, “Oh you know, just a senior moment.” But memory slaps me just the same way stirring up the ashes of barbecue coals turns them red. I’ve failed many times to remember a time when I had nothing particular on my mind.

    The Honolulu end of Waikiki beach is anchored by a Department of Defense hotel, run on taxpayer money as a low-cost vacation destination just for service people. The military is comical about telling them to “keep a low profile,” supposedly so they don’t become targets of the terrorists presumed to haunt these beautiful beaches. But of course you can tell. The buff bodies stand out against the fleshy look of the regular tourists. The odd-patterned tans—all dark brown faces with pale white everywhere else—betray a recent trip to the Middle East.

    I’ll sometimes nod to them, mostly out of politeness. I generally keep to myself the fact that we know a lot about each other. A few will nod back, maybe say a few words and leave you to fill in the silence, but I find the ones who talk too easily are generally part of what I call professional veterans, guys with little dirt under their nails who get a lot of free drinks and airline upgrades in a September 12 world. I’m grateful after meeting them for those portions of my stroll when there’s less time for my thoughts.

    Once in a while someone who fought some of the same kind of war I did is obvious—a missing hand on a 20-year-old, some thick pink scars. It could’ve been a car wreck or a factory fire, I guess, but I know that wasn’t what it was. I wonder what his friends thought the first time they saw him, or what his ex-girlfriend said, or what he thought being as scared to come home as he was scared to go to war. This is the guy who, after Wolf Blitzer moves on to the next story, cries trying to touch his daughter’s hair, and knows just because he changed from cammies to beach shorts that’s not a shortcut back into normal life. If you see these guys on TV, you always see them young and still strong, showing courage learning to use their new robo-prosthetics. You never see anything that shows what their life is like ten or forty years down the road.

    Out on the beach, some people won’t stop looking, like a 10-year-old’s focus on a a pile of Legos, and some won’t look at all, but either way this is all happening, like the wars did, simultaneously while other people are eating at Applebee’s and going shopping. It gets hard to keep it all in the same world. And you, sure, go ahead, you go on and use the term “unbearable pain” the next time you hit your thumb with a hammer.

    Of course, there are also those you don’t see, the boys and girls who bought the long zipper, the one that closes a body bag. Yes, Mrs. Mom, we took your son, but look, we gave you back a neatly folded flag. See, it’s in a triangle shape, representing the hats of American Revolutionary War soldiers, isn’t that interesting. And if you have a second child, and you call now, we’ll double your order.


    Me, we, they, you, I don’t know the right word to ever use, because it wasn’t just our side. I’d seen something on PBS saying that during the 1950s and early 1960s you could still see a few Japanese soldiers around the train stations, wearing bits of their old uniforms, some with crude prosthetics, begging, failed in the end by disregard. Young people, dressed in the latest western styles, passed by, eyes on the ground, embarrassed about men humiliating themselves in the midst of the post-war economic miracle. What if a visiting foreigner saw them, what would he think of Japan? Older people would slip the soldiers small bills, hoping if they had some money they would go away.

    A few guys ended worse off than the physically wounded, spending the weekends with their regular companions Samuel Adams, Johnnie Walker, and the cops. Get some sleep and have a drink, they were told, only don’t let it turn into too much of either one. Each bad thought seemed like a page that needed a twelve-ounce can of paperweight to hold it down. All we ever thought about was coming home; “If the army doesn’t kill me, I’ve got it made for life,” we said. We were naive; too many of us survived the war only to come back wanting to die every day.

    You learn to be alone in crowded places, deep in your own head. Imagine being on this beautiful beach and not caring to even look up and watch a father try to make his way across the hot sand balancing four dripping ice cream cones.

    They’d lost things whose importance they only recognized when they weren’t there. They’ve come to think today means nothing, tomorrow means nothing, and develop a sense that only things that already happened matter. Nothing has taste or color.


    My generation had no counselors, no clinics, no support groups. In my Ohio hometown, before the wife and I retired to Hawaii, every Memorial Day there’d be little flags first made in Iowa, then Hong Kong, then Japan, then Korea and now China and Vietnam—Vietnam, for gawds sake—on every porch. Half the people my age watching the parade then were vets in wheelchairs. I had a nice welcome home party when I came back, and plenty of good Veteran’s Days to try and use to subtract things from the parts of the fight I dragged along with me. But the underlying message was the same as in every war, whether delivered nicely or crudely: deal with the real stuff in private, we don’t want to know. You pack out your own gear, trooper.

    Drinking hurt, but for some it hurt less. Everyone learns it just sends your pain off to wait for you, but still it was something to look forward to, the first fizzy beer of the day tickling your nose, or the throat-burning shot of something stronger biting into an ulcer. Drinking wiped away hours when someone had too many of them, all the way back to 1945 sometimes. Pain can be patient, waiting for that one guy who had a little too much wine at a wedding and started talking about blood and brains in some alcoholic dialect until a couple of other vets walked him outside where he told stories from his knees for an hour which they alone could understand.

    A lot of this festers not out of what you saw and did, but the realization that what you saw and did really didn’t matter in any bigger picture and you had to make up some smaller picture to justify whatever. It should’ve had a reason. People say, “whatever you have to tell yourself,” but they forget you can’t lie to yourself alone at night. Imagine what it’s like to be my age and scared of the dark.


    I came to think of it like taking apart a jigsaw puzzle. You couldn’t say exactly when, but at some point you couldn’t see the picture anymore. It’s the last drop of water hanging swollen on the end of a faucet. You want to know what it’s like to have a breakdown in the meat aisle at Safeway? We can tell you. Even so, we don’t want to be called victims and disabled out, and we’re not seeking some third party’s moral redemption. We just want to get this crap out of our heads.



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  • How Accidental are America’s Accidental Civilian Killings Across the Middle East?

    June 30, 2017 // 20 Comments

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    Posted in: Hooper's War, Iraq



    U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has said “civilian casualties are a fact of life in this sort of situation,” referring to America’s war against Islamic State.


    How can America in clear conscience continue to kill civilians across the Middle East? It’s easy; ask Grandpa what he did in the Good War. Civilian deaths in WWII weren’t dressed up as collateral damage, they were policy.

    Following what some claim are looser rules of engagement in place under the Trump administration, U.S.-led coalition air strikes in Iraq and Syria killed 1,484 civilians in March 2017 alone. Altogether some 3,100 civilians have been killed from the air since the U.S. launched its coalition war against Islamic State, according to the NGO Airwars. Drone strikes outside of the ISIS fight killed 3,674 other civilians. In 2015 the U.S. destroyed an entire hospital in Afghanistan, along with doctors and patients inside.

    That all adds up to a lot of accidents — accidents created in part by the use of Hellfire missiles designed to destroy tanks employed against individual people, and 500 pound bombs that can clear a football-field sized area dropped inside densely inhabited areas. The policy of swatting flies with sledgehammers, surgical strikes with blunt instruments, does indeed seem to lead to civilian deaths, deaths that stretch the definition of “accident.”

    Yet despite the numbers killed, the watchword in modern war is that civilians are never targeted on purpose, at least by our side. Americans would never intentionally kill innocents.


    Except we have.


    The good guys in World War II oversaw the rapid development of new weapons to meet the changing needs of killing entire cities’ worth of innocents. For example, in Europe, brick and stone construction lent itself to the use of conventional explosives to destroy cities. In Japan, however, given the prominence of wood construction, standard explosives tended to simply scatter structures over a limited area. The answer was incendiary devices.

    To fine-tune their use, the U.S. Army Air Force built a full-size Japanese village in Utah. They questioned American architects who had worked in Japan, consulted a furniture importer, and installed tatami straw floor mats taken from Japanese-Americans sent off to internment camps. Among the insights gained was the need for incendiary devices to be made much heavier than originally thought. Japanese homes typically had tile roofs. The early devices tended to bounce right off. A heavier device would break through the tile and ignite inside the structure, creating a much more effective fire.

    Far from accidental, firebombing Japan had been planned in War Plan Orange, written long before Pearl Harbor. As far back as the 1920s, U.S. General Billy Mitchell had said Japan’s paper and wood cities would be “the greatest aerial targets the world had ever seen.” Following the outline in War Plan Orange, the efforts were lead by Curtis “Bombs Away” LeMay, who expressed his goal as “Japan will eventually be a nation without cities, a nomadic people.”

    LeMay also helped run the U.S. bombing campaign against North Korea during that war, claiming that American efforts killed some 20 percent of the civilian population. The man many call the architect of the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara, worked for LeMay during the WWII firebombing campaign. McNamara as Secretary of Defense went on to order the use of napalm in Vietnam, often against undefended civilian targets. The accidents of civilian deaths in war turn inside tight circles.

    The skill with which America tuned its WWII firebombing into a exquisite way to destroy civilians reached its peak on March 10, 1945, when three hundred American B-29 bombers flew virtually unopposed over Tokyo’s most densely populated residential area. They dropped enough incendiary bombs to create a firestorm, a conflagration that burned the oxygen out of the air itself.

    What was accomplished? One hundred thousand dead, a million people made homeless. The raid remains the single most destructive act of war ever committed, even after Hiroshima.


    The problem, however, for the U.S. with such raids was their inefficiency in killing civilians. The logistics of sending off 300 planes were daunting, especially when an hour or two of unexpected wind or rain could negate much of effort. There was no question firestorms were the very thing to systematically commit genocide in Japan. But what was needed was a tool to create those firestorms efficiently, and to make them weather-proof.

    It would only take science a few more months after the Tokyo firebombing to provide that tool. A single atomic bomb meant one plane could do the work of 300. And the bomb would create a fire so powerful and large and hot that weather would have no effect; it was foolproof. There could be no better weapon for destroying whole cities and all of the people in them, and it has only been used by one nation. Twice, because the 85,000 killed in Hiroshima were not enough.

    These were tactics of vengeance matched with weapons designed to carry them out as horribly as possible. They worked well: the firebombing campaign over Japan, including the atomic bombings, purposely killed more than one million civilians in just five months in 1945.

    It was only after WWII ended, when accurate descriptions from Hiroshima began finding their way back to America, that the idea of firebombing as a way to shorten the war, to spare lives in the long game, came into full flower. The myth, that the atomic bomb was in fact a reluctant instrument of mercy, not terror, was first published in Harper’s Magazine in February 1947 under the name of Secretary of War Henry Stimson. The actual writing was done by McGeorge Bundy, who later as National Security Adviser helped promote the American war in Vietnam that took several million civilian lives.

    The majority of Americans, recovering their consciences post-war, were thus nudged into seeing what was actually a continuation of long-standing policy of civilian genocide in Japan as an unfortunate but necessary step toward Japan’s surrender, and thus saved innumerable lives that would have been lost had the war dragged on. This thinking lives on today on politically correct ground under the banner of great powers having to reluctantly put aside what is moral in peace for what is expedient in war. A “fact of life,” according to the U.S. Secretary of Defense.


    So look deeper into history if you want to understand the morality-free rise in civilian deaths across America’s battlefields in the Middle East. We don’t like to think of ourselves as the kind of people who willfully kill innocents, but we were pleased by it only a skip back in history; your grandfather flew missions over Japan to burn children to death. Accidents of course happen in war, but there is a dark history of policy that demands skepticism each time such claims are made.



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  • Give the People What They Want (Satire)

    June 29, 2017 // 14 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Other Ideas

    brian-griffin-novel


    Casting around for a new book idea, I got some good advice. Don’t fight that feeling anymore, the would-be mentor I found on Craigslist (under “Missed Connections,” but that’s another story) told me.

    Stop writing things nobody really wants to read about, like about sad poor people and bad cops and the stupid Middle East. Yeah, yeah, Walmart is evil, we got it. Boring.

    Instead, give people what they want. Do tequila shots and search Amazon after a couple of late night drunk dials, and just write another one of the things that seem to be doing well.

    I want to get this done fast so I can sell it here. So here are a couple of ideas I came up with, along with the titles I’d use. Which is best do you think?


    Military Leadership: From Battleground to Boardroom
    There are already a million of these out there, but there always seems to be room for one more. Every retired service member from 30-years-in generals to privates kicked out on bad conduct violations, writes one. The fun thing is that they are all the same, as if every book is created by a computer that just randomly shuffles chapter headings like “Lead from the Front,” “People are Your Best Resource,” “No Surrender,” “Details Count,” “Be the Leader You Always Wanted,” “Combat Hardens Men (and Women Now Too!),” and more about leading from the front. Even the titles are similar, always with a colon: Leading from the Front: A General’s Story or What I Learned in Combat: A Major’s Lessons from Afghanistan or Trident Glory Honor Stuff: SEAL Lessons for Managers Who Don’t Have to Kill People. Slam dunk idea I feel.


    North Korea is a Yucky Place
    North Korea could secretly actually be like Disneyland with free medical marijuana handouts inside Space Mountain and no one would want a book like that. For us to be the good guys, we need bad guys, and the North Koreans are the best because they hardly ever defend themselves, their propaganda is outright hilarious and they never seem to get stuff right. Chapters just fall out of the printer — Kim Jong Un inspecting stuff, funny slogans like “We will defeat the Western Pigs with Our Stern Glances,” a thick sheaf of those goofy social-realist posters, insights from a guy who went to North Korea for a couple of days on an official tour and so forth. This paragraph alone is practically a third of the book already.


    ISIS is Hiding Under Your Bed
    This is an easy one, as I’ll just do a search and replace job on my earlier book, Al Qaeda is Hiding Under Your Bed. I can also do another search and replace to write Trump is Hiding Under Your Bed and make it a trilogy.


    I am a Celebrity So Here’s 200 Pages
    Since I am not a celebrity, that could limit this one, but I’ll pick a dead celeb (quick: is Jay Leno still alive? How about the barechested guy from Idol a few years back?) and type it as a ghostwriter. Celebrity books need only two things to sell well: a good cover photo, preferably one that is sexy but not so sexy that it can’t be sold in supermarkets, and one quotable gossipy bit about a better known celebrity. So, if it turns out that Leno really is dead so I can use him, I just need to make up something connecting him to a bigger celeb like, I don’t know, Oprah. Love child?!?!


    You Can Lose Weight Just By Buying this Book!
    Crazy, but it works!!!!*
    *May not work.


    I Fully Agree with Your Politics!
    This one would come in Red and Blue editions, different covers but the material inside would just be made opposite by an intern. So for the red book it would be “I love guns and hate people not like me” and the Blue one “I love hate guns and hate love people not like me.” If it sells, I’ll do an undecided edition that will go to the 89 percent of Americans who somehow can’t make up their mind about how they feel about surveys. This whole category has a lot of competition in it, so the idea may not work when I have to go head-to-head with superstars like Bill Maher.


    Something, Something, It’s Inspirational
    Our lives are so desperate and empty that we hope a 90 page book on the remainder rack will fix things. I’ve already discarded the titles You are Sad Enough to Buy This, and Well, At Least You Can Buy Another Cat, But Mom is Dead. Yep, that’s it.


    Something, Something, About Sex
    Everybody loves porn, some people just are too embarrassed to admit it and prefer to buy a “novel” instead of just looking at bondage sites that talk about the same damn things. Repressed much? If so, you’ll love my new novel, “Fifty-One Shades of Me Making Money.” It’ll be about this dominant author who sexually tortures readers by teasing them into buying a terribly written book. Or, maybe “Sex and More Sex But Without the Bad Words.” It’ll have stuff like “The moonlight was as much of a caress on her womanhood as his masculine hands, which were very clean and he had even gotten under the nails, and he had used mouthwash too before slobbering on me then rolling over to check his phone.” ‘Tween edition is the same stuff but with vampires.


    How to Get Rich Writing Junk Books
    If you’ve read this far into the article, you can imagine that this one would pretty much write itself. On the back cover would be a photo of my blackened soul.


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  • What I Learned as a Snowflake

    June 28, 2017 // 18 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy



    I just finished up a part-time job working with a group of post-college people, almost exclusively white, from middle and upper class backgrounds. The job itself wasn’t important, but what I learned is. 2018, never mind 2020, is going to be a rough year for Democrats.

    By embracing faux diversity that excludes more than it includes, the election results of 2018 will likely look like 2016 all over again.



    About the same time I left that job a book, Shattered, claimed a slogan considered by Hillary Clinton’s campaign team was “It’s Her Turn,” the clearest expression possible the candidate was simply entitled to be president. It encapsulated what my millennial former work colleagues said about their own lives. It is why they cannot accept Clinton lost; in their minds somehow — somehow — Hillary or someone just like her will wake up in the Lincoln Bedroom one morning in America muttering “there’s no place like home.” This thinking fuels the impeachment fan fiction which dominates Washington and the media, and blocks Democrats from coming up with solutions, instead of just “resistance.”

    My former colleagues have been lead to believe this, having majored in things like social work, anthropology, and for more than a few, gender studies, all wrapped in a comfortable blanket of self-importance and decades of being told to follow their dreams. Pronouns are sexist, whites are racist, men are misogynist. They believe mostly old people voted for Trump — the slang term used around my former office for people over 45 was “red hats,” as in those who wear Make America Great Again ball caps. I don’t think they really believed me when I said I had supported Bernie and not voted for Trump.

    The code inside all this is exclusionary, not inclusionary. It is OK to exclude men, old people, straight people, entire regions outside the right and left coasts, until most anyone not them is deplorable. That word, which Clinton claimed was a slip up, was actually the key underlying her whole campaign strategy of appealing so directly and overwhelmingly to people like those I recently worked with. Because the flip side of “It’s Her Turn” was an actual Clinton slogan, “I’m With Her,” a simple proclamation of the implicit sense of entitlement for candidate and supporter.


    But the 2016 election is over and won’t be undone by the Emoluments Clause-25th Amendment-Putin-Ivanka. So this is about the future. And the future for Democrats is supposed to be people like Hannah Risheq.

    Who? Huffington Post says “The Resistance Gave Birth To A Girl And Her Name Is Hannah Risheq.” Hannah is indeed exactly the candidate a Democratic fertility lab (or sympathetic media) would engineer, and exactly the kind of candidate who will draw off energy from the party’s base before losing. Familiar?

    Hannah ran for a state legislature job in Virginia in a primary with two other Democrats and an uncontested Republican incumbent who has been in office eight years. He’s raised over $117,000; she has $5400. She had to beat two other Dems in June, then unseat the Republican incumbent in November.

    That didn’t happen, Hannah lost, but because of what Hannah represents, she attracted the same empty hopefulness I saw in my old job’s break room.

    See, Hannah is qualified because: Her dad is Muslim. She is first-gen American. She is a woman. She is on social media. She was discriminated against as a child. She volunteered on the Hillary Clinton campaign. She “embodies the spirit of what is driving the Democratic Party forward right now.” Hannah says ” A lot of my friends are part of different marginalized groups, LGBTQ groups, other young women. I’m running because I want to give a voice to everyone.”

    OK. But she ran in a district whose voice is 67% White, 22% Asian (mostly middle class Korean), wealthy (Houses in her area run $650k), and shifting Republican. She also has no government experience, having just graduated from college with a degree in social work.

    So that is kind of it. A candidate at one with the ideals of the party (Time magazine includes Hannah with Georgia’s Flip the Sixth Jon Ossoff among a “new generation of Democratic candidates”) and at odds with the demographics. She isn’t anyone who appears qualified per se, but someone who is a sum of parts — woman, Muslim, immigrant — treated like a bucket of chicken, a whole that will never exist.

    Meant to inspire (The Resistance!) one wonders if Hannah’s inevitable loss did that, or simply discouraged more serious Democratic voters from trusting their party to represent who they are.

    And you can switch “Hannah” with “Ossoff” if you like.


    The 2018 and 2020 elections are a ways off, but at this early stage it appears the Democrats are engaged in the search for icons to run failing campaigns behind. They don’t get what happened in 2016, because the decision-makers are either people like my self-righteous and self-important former work colleagues, or party hacks who imagine there are more people like my former colleagues out there than there are. They seem to understand their voters care about LGBTQ rights, but do not see transgender restroom rights as a big part of the party’s focus now that same-sex marriage is the law of the land. It is unclear the people of Virginia are looking for a candidate like Hannah Risheq.

    Meanwhile, at the front of the national Democratic candidates’ line, are people like Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, each presented as a Hillary but without the decades of political shenanigans trailing behind, as if it’s still Her turn, just a different Her. Nearby are the slightly modified Hillary’s, people like Cory Booker (a mediocre mayor of Newark and a nearly-silent Senator.) And, sure, why not, maybe even Chelsea.

    American demographics may be changing, but deep inside the Democratic party the internal demographics are not. It is early days, but having more time ahead of 2020 to dig a deep hole deeper is not a good thing.




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  • The Russians Only Mattered Because Hillary Lost

    June 27, 2017 // 11 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America



    I’m going to ask you to try a thought experiment.

    Shut off the part of your mind that thinks Trump is bad (or good) and focus instead on the process in America that brought us to the present state of affairs. Because what unfolded in America is bigger than Trump, and will survive Trump to influence the next presidential election, and the one after that, and…

    Elections in America, 2016

    Here’s what an election looked like in America.

    — Bill Clinton met with then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch on June 27, 2016. Days later, on July 5, Lynch’s subordinate, FBI Director James Comey, announced candidate Hillary Clinton was not under investigation for security violations relating to her personal email server, extraordinary financial contributions by foreign governments to the Clinton Foundation many saw as quid pro quo, or anything else. Clinton is then nominated, with the last barrier to her move into the White House, the possibility of indictment, removed on schedule. Timing and coincidence are everything it seems.

    — According to the Washington Post, in late summer 2016 the CIA presented Obama with evidence that Russia, on Putin’s personal orders, was trying to influence the U.S. election. The accusations were the country obtained emails showing the Democratic National Committee (DNC) heavily favored Clinton over Sanders. The Russians also used social media to push a number of stories about Clinton that were false/exaggerated/true but negative.

    — According to the Post, so as not to appear to be supporting Trump, who at this same time was publicly stating the election was rigged against him, Obama did nothing regarding the Russian activities beyond allegedly telling Putin to stop doing them. This was largely predicated on the certainty that Clinton was going to win in November.

    — The DNC refused DHS/FBI cyber security assistance. The DNC did not allow DHS/FBI to physically inspect its computer hardware.

    The state of things as of late summer-early autumn 2016 was that Russia activities were just not that big of a deal. Clinton seemed comfortably headed to the White House. If this was a crisis, nobody acted like it.


    Clinton Lost

    The Russians’ activities at the worst consisted of those DNC emails and social media. The DNC emails’ primary content seemed to be confirmation that the organization favored Clinton over Sanders, not exactly news to Sanders’ supporters.

    Social media, the other side to Russia’s efforts, is confirmational; it tends to reach people who already believe what they are reading. Much of the Russian influence on the election was ascribed to RT.com, the Russian cable television channel. RT has very limited viewership among American households and arguably limited credibility among American voters. Quick now — what channel is RT on your cable box?

    The November election approached. Obama took no significant action. Democrats didn’t balk until November 1, almost a month after the information became publicly known, and only as polls started to show Trump pulling ahead. Hillary lost.


    A Whole-of-Government Effort

    A whole-of-government effort nearly immediately unfolded to overturn the election.

    Recounts were called for amid allegations of vote tampering. Constitutional scholars proposed various Electoral College wishful-thinking scenarios to unseat Trump. Lawsuits were filed claiming the hereto-largely unheard of Emoluments Clause made it illegal for Trump to even assume office. Leaks begin pouring out, focused on information sourced from signals intercept material available only to limited persons inside the intelligence community (IC), implying the Trump campaign worked with the Russian government.

    (Here’s more on the IC, Russia, and Trump.)

    Serious people in the United States government claimed outright the person elected president was a Russian agent, placed in the White House to follow instructions from Moscow. His very presence in the Oval Office was a treasonous act.

    The American mainstream media reset itself to the goal of enabling the impeachment of the president, spinning up the process even before Trump took the oath of office. It is now a rare day when the top stories are not bombastic accusations, based on a whole litany of anonymous sources, so-called reports, according to people familiar withs, government officials who have seen the documents, and so forth. No bit of gossip is too small, no accusation too grand, and it is all presented unsourced, rocketed from Rawstory to HuffPo to the New York Times in the morning, the other way around for the scoop-of-the-day in the afternoon.

    What was largely ignored by the White House in the summer of 2016 on the assumption Clinton would win became in the autumn after she lost, in the words of the Washington Post, “in political terms, Russia’s interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy.”

    In other words, whatever the Russians did only mattered and only was a crime because it contributed to Clinton’s loss. The hacking itself is immaterial; what matters is the way it affected the White House’s and media’s favored candidate.

    Only after Clinton lost did it become necessary to demonize the Russian threat and create a crisis that might be inflated big enough to justify impeachment.


    Minority Rulez

    Even among intelligent people well-versed in how government really works the thinking seems to be “well, it’s justified to get rid of Trump.”

    Trump is a terrible president. It is unlikely the United States will be a better place four years from now. But the problem isn’t so much Trump as it is the longer game. We’ve had crappy presidents before and mumbled through.

    Try as hard as you can to forget Trump is, well, Trump. Focus instead on the sheer amount of high-level manipulation, collusion if you will to use a popular term, involved in the recent election. What role did the FBI and the intelligence community play in the election? Why did they play any role at all? Why did the White House take little-to-know action against Russia, and shield what they knew from the American people, as long as their favored candidate was in the lead? What role is the media playing now in fanning the flames? Name a media source you consider impartial anymore.

    What is the broader significance of a relative minority of people inside government and the media seeking to overturn the results of an election?




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  • How to Help Refugees: A Practical Guide

    June 26, 2017 // 8 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Syria


    You want to #resist? Helping refugees means helping refugees, you know, talk the talk not just walk the walk. And not just on weekends. Here’s some of what you can do.

    Start By Understanding the Multi-Organizational Refugee Process

    The American refugee acceptance, qualification, and resettlement process is a tangle of the United Nations, at least three different agencies of the U.S. government, and multiple nongovernmental organizations. You can’t speak to others, advocate, interact emphatically with refugees, or decide where to devote your volunteer time or money without understanding how this works. Start here.


    Find Out Why Your State Does Not Accept More Refugees

    As for advocacy, ask why your state does not resettle more refugees. While states are not allowed to turn away refugees who wish to live there, 30 American governors said they’d refuse to accept Syrian refugees into their states if they somehow could.

    Just ten states resettled more than half of recent refugees to U.S. Arkansas, the District of Columbia and Wyoming resettled fewer than ten refugees each, while two states – Delaware and Hawaii – took in none.

    A significant issue is that people are afraid. Understand the vetting process so you can talk to them. Explain how this process has been in place for a long period of time. Marches and demonstrations are never a bad thing, but to affect real change you must reach out to people who disagree with you. Look for opportunities to talk to groups that are not on your side.

    Strongly consider fact-based arguments and not emotional appeals. There is an extraordinary amount of inaccurate information out there, from purposeful hate and fear mongering, to well-meaning people making dumb mistakes. Everyone’s heard the poem on the side of the Statue of Liberty; try another path to persuade people. For example, for those concerned about the cost to taxpayers, after no more than 180 days, financial assistance from federal agencies stops and refugees are expected to become self-sufficient.

    See if your local schools will allow refugees to speak about their home country. People are less fearful and more accepting of those they know better. You can say you hate Syrians; it’s harder to say you hate Mrs. Aswad who spoke to your son’s social studies class.


    Volunteer Locally to Resettle Refugees

    Once a refugee arrives in the United States, a process called resettlement begins.

    In the U.S., the International Organization for Migration and U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement work with voluntary agencies like the International Rescue Committee, Church World Service and others to resettle refugees. These voluntary agencies have offices across the country. For example, Church World Service has resettlement programs in 21 states, while the International Rescue Committee has programs in 15.

    From there, local nonprofit ethnic associations and church-based groups help refugees learn English and job skills. All of these nonprofits need volunteers. Here’s a list to get you started.

    Here are some examples of what volunteers do. It could be something as simple as helping kids register for school.

    Some organizations may offer, or be willing to start offering, internships for students to bring in more help. Check if your school is willing to offer credit.


    Finding Work

    If you or your organization can offer refugees a job, contact a local resettlement group.

    Consider canvassing businesses to see if any of their employment needs can be filled by a refugee. Refugees bring a variety of skills with them. Speak with local resettlement groups and see if you can offer “matchmaking” assistance.

    Check with colleges and universities about available scholarships, or free classes.

    For persons who cannot work, consider volunteer activities to help them build skills or a resume.

    Support businesses that employ refugees, and stay away from ones who explicitly do not. If you shop at businesses that employ a lot of refugees or immigrants who work primarily for tips (The people who deliver food to you? Drive your Uber?), tip generously. You can literally put money into the hand of someone who can use it.


    Know Your History

    Despite the lofty and idealized rhetoric surrounding refugee admissions, the United States is quite stingy in the number of people it accepts. Knowing history makes you a more credible speaker and educator.

    America sets an annual ceiling on refugees; for FY 2016 it was 85,000. Refugee number 85,001, no matter how desperate, waits until next year. Go back to 2006, and the ceiling was 70,000 (though less than 50,000 were actually admitted). Since 1980, the United States has accepted fewer than two million refugees overall, and 40 percent of those were children who accompanied or joined their refugee parent(s). By contrast, though not limited to refugees, the Obama administration deported 2.5 million people in just eight years.

    The FY2016 American quota for Syrian refugees was 10,000. In contrast, among Syrians alone, Canada in 2016 took in 25,000. Germany admitted 300,000 refugees from various nations in 2016, following close to one million in 2015.

    Careful about being an amateur lawyer; preserve your credibility. 8 U.S.C. 1152 Sec. 202(a)(1)(A) makes it unlawful to ban immigrants (Legal Permanent Residents, green card holders) because of “nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” The law however is silent on banning refugees for those same reasons.


    Inclusion of links does not imply endorsement. Exclusion of any organization implies nothing negative. Do your own research before making any donations or volunteering in any way.



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  • Groundhog Day in Iraq? Nope, Worse

    June 23, 2017 // 31 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Iran, Iraq

    petraeus-crocker-sons-of-iraq


    It’s a helluva question: “Tell me how this ends.”

    It was a good question in 2003 when then Major General David Petraeus asked it as the United States invaded Iraq, an ironic one in 2011 when the US withdrew, worth revisiting in 2014 when the US reinvaded Iraq, and again in 2017 as Islamic State appears to be on its way out. Problem is we still don’t have a good answer. It could be Groundhog Day all over again in Iraq, or it could be worse.



    Groundhog Day

    The Groundhog Day argument, that little has changed from 2003 until now, is quite persuasive. Just look at the headlines. A massive Ramadan car bomb exploded not just in Baghdad, but in Karada, its wealthiest neighborhood, during a holiday period of heightened security, and all just outside the Green Zone were the American Embassy remains hunkered down like a medieval castle. Islamic State, like al Qaeda before it, can penetrate the heart of the capital city, even after the fall of their home base in Fallujah (2004, 2016.) Meanwhile, Mosul is under siege (2004, 2017.) Iranian forces are on the ground supporting the Baghdad central government. The Kurds seek their own state. American troops are deep in the fighting and taking casualties. The Iraqi Prime Minister seems in control at best only of the Shia areas of his country. Groundhog Day.

    But maybe this time around, in what some call Iraq War 3.0, we do know how it ends.


    Not Groundhog Day

    It seems unlikely anyone will be able to get the toothpaste of Kurdish independence back into the tube. A functional confederacy since soon after the American invasion of 2003, Kurdish national forces have linked with Kurdish militias, albeit with American help, across the width of northern Iraq, from the Iranian border in the east into Turkey and Syria in the west. This is in large part the land mass traditionally thought of as Kurdistan.

    The Trump administration is for the first time overtly arming Kurdish militias in Syria (some of whom the Turks consider terrorists) to fight Islamic State, without much plan in mind about how to de-arm them when they turn towards the Turks who hold parts of their ancestral homeland. That may not even be a valid question; the ties that bound the United States and Turkey during Iraq War 2.0 appear significantly weakened following Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s coup. His authoritarian government seems far less a valued NATO partner in 2017 than it was even a few years ago. Though the US may require the Kurds to maintain some sort of fictional relationship with the country of “Iraq” to preserve the illusion of a unified nation for American domestic consumption, the key question is whether the Kurds will go to war with Turkey somewhere in the process, and whether the US will choose a side.

    Any reluctance on the part of the United States during Iraq War 2.0 to act as a restraining force on the Shia central government’s empowering of militias (gifted the Orwellian name of Popular Mobilization Units) disappeared when the Iraqi National Army dropped its weapons and ran from Islamic State in 2014. Those militias — only loosely allied with one another, and even less tied to the central government — now carry the bulk of the responsibility for the fight against Islamic State. Many owe their primary allegiance to Iran, who helps arm them, command them, and by some accounts supplements their efforts with special forces dispatched from Tehran. These militias, empowered by the Iranian help now offered openly as America shrugs its shoulders at expediency, are unlikely to be interested in any kind of Sunni-Shia unified Iraq post-Islamic State. It will be near impossible to demobilize them. Indeed, holding them back from committed a Sunni genocide will be the likely challenge in the near future.

    The Iraqi government “victories” over Islamic State in Sunni strongholds like Ramadi and Fallujah have left little for those not sent off as internal refugees. Large swathes of Sunni territory lay in ruins, with no clear plan to rebuild in sight. A political officer at the American Embassy would likely tell you the problem is that neither the U.S. nor Iraq will have the funds anytime in the foreseeable future. A Sunni tribal leader would likely spit on the ground and explain the Shia central government wouldn’t spend a dime if it had a dollar, and will settle for a slow-motion genocide of the Sunni people if the Americans won’t allow a quick one at Shia gunpoint. No matter; the desolation of Sunni areas is severe, regardless of the cause.

    Iraq will be a Shia nation with extraordinary ties to Iran. With no small amount of irony, the price Iraq and Iran will be forced to pay for America, and Israel, titularly accepting this will likely be permanent American military bases inside Iraq (don’t laugh until you remember Guantanamo in Soviet-dominated Cuba, or Hong Kong nestled in Communist China), mostly out of sight way out west with more interest in Syria than Iran. America has wanted those bases since the early days of Iraq War 2.0, and Iran has nothing to gain by picking a fight with the United States. They get the rest of Iraq, after all.

    What happens to the bulk of Iraqi Sunnis is less certain, though the menu is all bad news. World media optics suggest it is in everyone’s interests that any mass slaughter be avoided; Iran in particular would have no interest in giving President Trump or an angry Congress an excuse to get more involved in Iraq’s internal affairs. With the US bases most likely to be located in western Iraqi Sunni homelands, it may be that the tribes find themselves the unofficial beneficiaries of American protection. Those permanent American bases, and the safety they provide, might also keep the successor to Islamic State from moving into a power vacuum the way Islamic State did when al Qaeda found it had outstayed its welcome among the Sunni population.

    This is the End

    Tell me how this ends? A defacto divided Sunni-Shia-Kurd “Iraq” with stronger ties to Iran than the United States. The only unanswered question will be if the value of that ending is worth the cost of some 14 years of American combat, close to 4,500 American dead, and trillions of taxpayer dollars spent.

     

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  • Facebook and the Public Square

    June 22, 2017 // 13 Comments

    Tags:
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America




    In what is likely to be a more controversial decision, the same Supreme Court session that confirmed hate speech is protected speech also struck down a law that made it a crime for registered sex offenders to use Facebook and other social media.

    Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority in Packingham v. North Carolina , said the web is now part of “the modern public square.” Denying access to it, he wrote, violates the First Amendment.

    “By prohibiting sex offenders from using those websites, North Carolina with one broad stroke bars access to what for many are the principal sources for knowing current events, checking ads for employment, speaking and listening in the modern public square, and otherwise exploring the vast realms of human thought and knowledge,” Kennedy wrote.

    The case touches on another snowflake battlecry, that private concerns like Facebook are not the government, and thus not subject to the First Amendment. Such thinking is being double-plus used as a work-around to prohibit speech that offends certain groups. So, while say a public university funded by the government must under the First Amendment allow a nazi to speak, a private company like Facebook can set it own rules and prohibit any speech it wishes.

    The importance of the ruling is in its forward-looking perspective. The ruling does not address the question of whether or not Facebook can ban certain speech directly, but does confirm the idea that entities like Facebook, by their size and prominence, take on a larger role in our society (i.e., the “modern public square”) that cannot be ignored. One can easily imagine Justice Kennedy’s opinion used in a future case challenging Facebook or some other private entity’s restrictions on speech.


    And despite the willingness of many to try and dilute the ideas of free speech by citing the public-private divide, the Supreme Court is really doing little more here than enforcing the very old concept that free speech runs deeper than the Bill of Rights. It’s as much a philosophical argument as a legal one, not a bad thing for a nation founded on a set of ideas (and ideals.)

    Free speech in America is an unalienable right, and goes as deep into the concept of a free society as any idea can. Though cited as far back as 1689 in England, the American version of all this was laid out most clearly by Thomas Jefferson, in the mighty Declaration of Independence, where he wrote of rights that flowed from his notion of The Creator, not from government, and thus were fixed. Abetting free speech is an obligation in a democracy in general.

    Jefferson’s invocation of the Creator is understood now as less that free speech is heaven-sent and more that it is something that exists before and after our time. Government thus did not give us the right to free speech and therefore cannot take it away. The First Amendment simply codifies that latter part, laying out like much of the Bill of Rights what the government cannot do.

    So the argument that the First Amendment does not necessarily apply to all speech (such as that which takes place on private property) can be both true and irrelevant at the same time, and the latter is more important.



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  • 1A Victory: SCOTUS Again Confirms ‘Hate Speech’ is Protected

    June 21, 2017 // 19 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America



    In the world we awoke to on November 8, 2016, a myth took hold among many progressive people that so-called “hate speech” — speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability — is not protected by the First Amendment. Even Howard Dean contributed to the falsehood.

    The Supreme Court just made it very, very clear that is wrong. Offensive and hateful speech is as protected as any other. It is vital to protect all speech, for the road of prohibiting speech one disagrees with is a slippery one. There is a right to offend; deal with it, snowflakes.




    A recent case, Matal v. Tam, focused on an all-Asian band called The Slants, who wanted to trademark their group’s name. “Slant” of course is one of a dictionary full of racist terms used to offend Asians, and the group wanted to push the word into the world’s face to disarm it, as gay men have done with the slur queer.

    The United States Patent and Trademark Office said no, the group could not trademark the name The Slants because of the disparagement clause, which denies federal trademark protection to messages that may offend people, living or dead, along with “institutions, beliefs or national symbols.” This same reasoning denied the Washington Redskins’ trademark renewal of their team name in 2014, seen as disparaging toward Native Americans.


    No more. The Supreme Court just ruled the government cannot use trademark law to stop people from promoting an (potentially offensive) name. That constitutes the government prohibiting free expression, a clear violation of the First Amendment.

    The First Amendment protects offensive speech, Justice Samuel Alito wrote in this unanimous decision. “The proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate,’” he said, quoting the classic 1929 dissent from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

    (Trump-era snowflakes usually misapply Holmes’ famous line — not shouting fire in a crowded theatre — to justify banning offensive speech by claiming it incites violence. They’re wrong; it doesn’t work that way at all. The whole thing is laid out here.)

    “The danger of viewpoint discrimination,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in The Slants’ case, “is that the government is attempting to remove certain ideas or perspectives from a broader debate. That danger is all the greater if the ideas or perspectives are ones a particular audience might think offensive, at least at first hearing. To permit viewpoint discrimination in this context is to permit government censorship.”

    The ACLU called the decision a “major victory for the First Amendment.”



    And… mic drop.

    The marketplace of ideas needs to be broad and deep, and awful people must be free to spew terrible words, into it, so they can be exposed and bad ideas shoved aside by good ones. That’s how the Founders intended the system to work, that is how it has worked through over 200 years of controversy, and the Supreme Court made it clear this week Trump, Howard Dean, Milo Yiannopoulos or your favorite nazi have no place in trying to change things.


    BONUS: And though the Court didn’t feel the need to remind people that it has long ago sorted out questions about whether hate speech inciting violence justifies restrictions, or the obligation of campuses to provide platforms to offensive speakers, or cities to protect them and their listeners, I will. It’s all explained here, children. Stop trying to use fascism’s tools to silence free speech. Let them speak.)

    DOUBLE BONUS: Five bad arguments the Left is using to restrict speech from the Right.



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  • My Dreams Seek Revenge: Hiroshima

    June 20, 2017 // 16 Comments

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    Posted in: Hooper's War

    Stillman-Hiroshima-690


    I’ve visited Hiroshima many times.


    The thing that always struck me about Hiroshima was simply being there. The train pulled into the station under an announcement that you had arrived in Hiroshima. It was another stop on the bullet train’s long run from Osaka to Fukuoka, so they called out the name as if it was just another stop. I’d get off the train, step out into the sunlight — that sunlight — and I was in Hiroshima. I had the same feeling only once before, taking a bus out of Munich and having the driver announce the next stop as Dachau. Somehow such names feel wrong being said so prosaically.

    I guess no matter how many times I went to Hiroshima, I always expected something different to happen, when in fact nothing happened. There were 200,000 souls out there that no matter how much concrete and paving had been laid down could not have been buried deep enough. I couldn’t see them for the crowds of people pushing into the station, and I couldn’t hear them over the traffic noise.

    But past lives lingered. It couldn’t be helped. The mountains that form the background in the old photos are still backstopping the city. A lot of tall buildings of course now, but the Ota River delta, where thousands drowned trying to cool their bodies and extinguish their burning flesh, is right there. In that way the Japanese had of trying to make the war go away as quickly as they could once it was over, most of the bridges and streets were rebuild right where they’d been before the bomb. Same for most pubic buildings. With a map and some old photos, you could see where you where in 2016 and where you would have been in 1945.

    In August, Hiroshima is hot as hell and twice as humid. You can’t really sweat, there’s so much moisture in the air. Take a fast walk and you feel like you have asthma. But in 2016, you can duck into a McDonald’s not far from the Dome and absorb as much free air conditioning as you’d like. An American there, or in the Peace Park, is as likely to be ignored as just another tourist as he is to become the target of some nice Japanese person wanting to practice English.


    Hiroshima is an imperfect place, and one which will not easily allow you to forget the terrible things that preceeded its day of infamy.

    While grieving for the victims, many outside of Japan feel the Japanese government has yet to fully acknowledge its aggressiveness in plunging East Asia into war, preferring to portray the nation as a victim.

    Indeed, the otherwise moving Hiroshima Museum inside the Peace Park has been chastised by some as focusing too exclusively on a single day, out of a war that began years earlier and claimed millions of innocent lives at the hands of the Japanese military. The criticism is particularly sharp right now, given a rise in militarism occurring under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

    There have also been issues between Japan and Korea regarding Hiroshima. An estimated 40,000 Koreans were injured or killed in the atomic blast, many of them slave laborers kidnapped from Korea and brought to work in Hiroshima’s factories.

    The centerpiece of the Peace Park, the Memorial Cenotaph, was created as the final resting place for the ashes and bones of the bomb’s victims, many of whom were never fully identified. Under Buddhist tradition, without such interment, the souls of those men and women will never rest. Japan, however, only allowed those remains believed to be Japanese to be placed in the Memorial.


    There is still much to atone for, and much to reconcile. The U.S., above all, remains unrepentant. It was only on the 60th anniversary of the bomb that the first American Ambassador ever came to Hiroshima on an August 6th morning to pay respects. Ask most Americans about the bombing, and it would be surprising not to hear the phrase “the Japs deserved it.” There is still not enough for some, even seven decades later.

    Perhaps the oddest part of my visits to Hiroshima was always at the end. I simply got on a train, and left it all behind me.

    Or so I thought each time I tried, because at night my dreams always sought revenge.



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  • America’s Real Loss of Prestige and Leadership Abroad

    June 19, 2017 // 13 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, NSA, Post-Constitution America




    Because we traded the smooth talking guy for the clumsy boob with no manners, it is popular to bleat that America has given up its role as leader of the free world, to say other nations don’t respect us anymore, or look to us for moral guidance — in the extreme, that we are no longer that shining city on the hill we see ourselves as.

    What such cliches overlook is that not everyone in the free world is as blind as a typical American op-ed writer. Some in fact see past who the current Spokesmodel of Democracy in the White House is, and look to what America actually does. And what it does is often not pretty, and when revealed suggests our nation is and has been morally bankrupt a lot longer than the Trump administration has been in charge.

    One of the more recent revelations of what much of the world already knew comes, again, via Wikileaks, America’s conscience.

    Leaked documents show home internet routers, that blinking thing in the corner of the room where you’re reading this, from ten American manufacturers, including Linksys, DLink, and Belkin, can be turned into covert listening posts that allow the Central Intelligence Agency to monitor and manipulate incoming and outgoing traffic and infect connected devices.

    Short: American-made devices sold globally to allow the free world to use the Internet have been repurposed by the CIA as spy tools.

    The CIA’s technique requires new firmware to be added to the router. This can be done remotely, over WiFi, at the factory, or at any point along the supply chain. It is unknown if America’s leading electronics manufacturers actively helped the CIA do this, passively allowed the CIA to do this after sharing technical data, or simply looked the other way.


    The results of this CIA hack are spectacular.

    The firmware allows the CIA full access to the router, and all connected devices and networks. The spooks can insert malware, copy passwords, see what is being sent and received, redirect browsers to fake websites, why there is little-to-no limit. Apparently the user interface the CIA created for itself is quite friendly. There’s even a Quick Start Guide.

    And you know what?

    The CIA has been doing all this since at least 2007. That means it started under the George W. Bush administration, ran during both Obama terms, and continues without a break right into the Trump years. Three very different presidents, three very different self-images for America, yet underlying all was the same CIA, turning American products to their own needs and spying on well, everyone. Anyone. Free world or not.


    From a global perspective, it doesn’t really matter whether the person in the White House is a Nobel Peace Prize winner or a bumbling oaf. Because the real America, the one that spies on a global scale for its own ends, never changes. That guy on TV you hate? He’s just a placeholder, maybe a distraction, about as consequential to the real role of the United States as a professional wrestler.




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  • Moral Injury and Hooper’s War

    June 17, 2017 // 17 Comments

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    Posted in: Hooper's War, Military



    As research for Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan I encountered people suffering in ways they had a hard time describing but which they wrestled with God over everyday. They told me they went away to fight with an idea “we’re the good guys, they’re not” that did not always survive the test of events. They spoke of a depth of pain that needed an end, some end, and for too many, as many as 22 a day every day, any end, even suicide.

    That’s to scratch at describing what we now know as moral injury. The term is fairly new, especially outside of military circles, but the idea is as old as war — each person sent into conflict finds their sense of right and wrong tested. When they see something, do something, or fail to do something, a transgressive act, that violates their most deeply held convictions, they suffer an injury to the soul, the heart, their core. There are lines inside us which cannot be crossed except at great price — ignoring a plea for medical help, shooting a child in error, watching friends die in a war you have come to question, failing to report a sexual assault witnessed, a sense of guilt simply by presence (documented well in Tim O’Brien’s iconic Vietnam War book, The Things They Carried), can cause moral injury. Moral injury is represented well in documentaries such as Almost Sunrise, and though not by name, in films like William Wyler’s 1946 The Best Years of Our Lives and Oliver Stone’s 1986 Platoon.


    Society once expressed skepticism toward such ideas; well, perhaps not skepticism, for that implies more of an open mind than calling sufferers cowards, or dismissing them by saying it’s all in their heads, have a drink, take some time off. Now sister illnesses to moral injury such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are not only acknowledged as real, but new MRI technology can pinpoint their effects inside the brain.

    Moral injury differs from PTSD in that it is tied to the parts of a person that decide right and wrong, and applies guilt, regret or shame as a penalty. PTSD is fear-based, and includes stresses like hyperalertness that worked well over there in war (quite valid adaptations in the mind and body, such as hitting the ground when hearing loud noises, to the real situation of other people trying to kill you), but are dangerous, exhausting, and frightening back here. The flight-or-fight response just won’t shut off, even in the absence of threat. PTSD to many is a loss of safety, but not a loss of self. Moral injury might be thought of as a disconnect between one’s pre-war self and a second self develops in the face of death, action, or inaction. Moral injury jumbles these two selves which cannot in fact live well together inside one body.

    There is a formal definition of moral injury, “the lasting psychological, biological, spiritual, behavioral and social impact of perpetuating, failing to prevent, or bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.” Moral injury occurs at the intersection of psychology and spirituality, and so, in a sense, is all in someone’s head — as we are thinking beings with a complex sense of right and wrong, then it follows that sense can be broken. Moral injury ironically represents a strength of character — as a human being they cannot ignore what was done — but it feels like a weakness.


    The term moral injury may have originated with Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist who conducted groundbreaking work in PTSD, publishing two books, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and Trials of Homecoming, examining the experience of combat through classical texts. Others place the origins of the term moral illness with Vietnam veteran and philosopher Camillo Mac Bica.

    The Department of Veteran’s Affairs now acknowledges moral injury and its effects. Syracuse University created the Moral Injury Project in 2014 to bring together veterans, doctors, chaplains, and mental health providers. Psychologists are developing diagnostic assessment tools.

    Because the research on moral injury is in its infancy, there are no data yet on the number of combat veterans who suffer from it. But the conditions of modern warfare, from Vietnam forward, suggest they are many.

    “There are no long front-lines,” said Nancy Sherman, a philosophy professor at Georgetown University and author of Afterwar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers. “The city or village is the war zone today. Women and children are armed. Men are fighting without uniforms.”


    But that sounds too clean to me. Because the results of those two words — moral injury — are exactly what you might expect: a long-war struggle for understanding, thoughts of suicide, and self-medication.

    I came to know a handful of veterans, and spoke intimately with the men and women I lived alongside in Iraq for a terrible year that was scarred by two soldier suicides. I spent time speaking with Japanese who lived through WWII as civilians. One now-elderly woman remembered her mother’s own moral injury after seven decades, a failure to comfort two dying siblings, hearing her mother’s ghost say in a park in 2016 Tokyo “Haruo-kun, that day of the firebombing was so hot for you. Akiko-chan, you wished so hard for water then. Please drink now.”

    What response can there be to something so human?

    A lot of pain festers not just out of what people saw, as with the Japanese woman, but the realization that what they saw and did really didn’t matter in any bigger picture. It should’ve had a reason, many pleaded to me. People say to sufferers, “whatever you have to tell yourself,” to help them create justification, but they forget you can’t lie to yourself alone at night. Imagine what it’s like to be in your 30s, or 70s, and scared of the dark. Imagine you have real reasons to be scared. Imagine you want to cry years out of you. Imagine failing to understand what you feel, not being able to talk much about the things you think about every day.


    Suicide is never far from moral injury. The soul isn’t that big a place.

    It is above all the act of killing that does it: 70 percent of those Afghan and Iraq veterans who participated in heavy combat attempt suicide. One guy who told me he has never forgiven his neighbor from talking him out of going into the garage with his rifle. Another who said the question wasn’t why he might commit suicide, but why he hadn’t already done so. The Department of Veteran Affairs counts 20 veteran suicides a day. About 65 percent of all veteran suicides are by individuals fifty years and older who have had little or no exposure to the most recent conflicts.

    A lot of those suffering from moral injury self-medicate. Seeking help is still a stigma for some, the hard work of recovery too hard or too slow for others.

    Drinking (drugs for many of the younger guys) hurts. Everyone learns it just sends pain off to wait, but still it was something to look forward to, they told me, the first fizzy beer of the day tickling their nose, or the throat-burning shot of something stronger biting into an ulcer. Drinking wiped away hours when someone had too many of them, all the way back to 1945 sometimes. You drink in the dark places, a bar, an unlit living room because there is a sense that you have lost your future and that’s easier to deal with when you can’t see anything (you see too much in the dark anyway.) Pain can be patient, a drop of water swelling on the end of a faucet, waiting for that one guy who had a little too much at a wedding and started talking about blood and brains in some alcoholic dialect until a couple of other vets walk him outside where he tells stories from his knees which they understood.

    The trip back is as complex as the individual, and the most effective treatments evolving. “Soul repair” is the term some use.

    One path to healing is via helping a patient to understand (“owning it”) what happened and their own responsibility, not necessarily fault, for transgressions. Others speak of seeking self-forgiveness, including a benevolent moral authority, often because those transgressed against are dead.

    Another way back is for the sufferer to make amends, either toward those harmed, or to a third party. To amend literally mean to change something already done, and in the case of moral injury that is drawing a line between who one was then and can be now.

    The goal is to accept wrong was done but to also understand it and learn how to deal with it; the act, while impossible to reconcile or forgive, does not have to define the rest of a life. The goal is for individuals to reclaim good parts of themselves and to examine and accept — but not be defined by — what they did, what they saw, what others did,

    What doesn’t work, in the eyes of one veteran-advocate, Matthew Hoh, is lying, as we do every day in the United States, telling veterans who view themselves as villains they are really all heroes. Hoh, after leaving the Marine Corps after service in Iraq and Afghanistan, later became one of only four State Department officials to resign in protest over the post-9/11 wars.

    “You mean like that Vietnam helicopter thing?” a well-meaning family doctor asked me when I told him coming home from the anemic role I played in Iraq left me more interested in vodka than my family, with a few too many orange containers lined up next to the sink even before I saw him. That was my own tiny taste of this, a failure to have accomplished anything, but I was lucky to benefit from some good people who helped me to accept my choices, and give up trying to erase them or explain them away. I didn’t want pity or understanding, I just wanted to get this stuff out of my head.

    The process is hard; it doesn’t always have the happy ending I wrote into my story. Sometimes these things don’t end when the war ends. Sometimes for some men and women they don’t end until they do. That’s the end loss for everyone.

     

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  • The Myth of Hiroshima

    June 16, 2017 // 17 Comments

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    Posted in: Hooper's War

    Stillman-Hiroshima-690

    With rare exception, the question of whether the atomic bombs were necessary to end World War Two is debated only deep within the safety of academic circles.

    Could a land invasion have been otherwise avoided? Would more diplomacy have achieved the same ends without the destruction of two cities? Could an atomic test on a deserted island have convinced the Japanese? Was the surrender instead driven primarily by the entry of the Soviets into the Pacific War, which, by historical accident, took place two days after Hiroshima—and the day before Nagasaki was immolated?

    But it is not only the history of the decision itself that is side stepped. Beyond the acts of destruction lies the myth of the atomic bombings, the post-war creation of a mass memory of things that did not happen.

    The short version of the atomic myth, the one kneaded into public consciousness, is that the bombs were not dropped out of revenge or malice, immoral acts, but of grudging military necessity. As a result of this, the attacks have not provoked or generated deep introspection and national reflection.

    The use of the term “myth” is appropriate. Harry Truman, in his 1945 announcement of the bomb, focused on vengeance, and on the new, extraordinary power the United States alone possessed. The military necessity argument was largely created later, in a 1947 article defending the use of the atomic bomb, written by former Secretary of War Henry Stimson, though actually drafted by McGeorge Bundy (later an architect of the Vietnam War) and James Conant (a scientist who helped build the original bomb). Conant described the article’s purpose at the beginning of the Cold War as “You have to get the past straight before you do much to prepare people for the future.”

    The Stimson article was a response to journalist John Hersey’s account of the human suffering in Hiroshima, first published in 1946 in the New Yorker and later as a book. Due to wartime censorship, Americans knew little of the ground truth of atomic war, and Hersey’s piece was shocking enough to the public that it required that formal White House response. Americans’ general sense of themselves as a decent people needed to be reconciled with what was done in their name. The Stimson article was quite literally the moment of creation of the Hiroshima myth.

    The national belief that no moral wrong was committed with the atomic bombs, and thus there was no need for reflection and introspection, echoes forward through today (the blithe way Nagasaki is treated as a historical after thought – “and Nagasaki, too” – only drives home the point.) It was 9/11, the new Pearl Harbor, that started a series of immoral acts allegedly servicing, albeit destructively and imperfectly, the moral imperative of saving lives by killing. America’s decisions on war, torture, rendition and indefinite detention are seen by most as the distasteful but necessary actions of fundamentally good people against fundamentally evil ones. Hiroshima set in motion a sweeping, national generalization that if we do it, it is right.

    And with that, the steps away from the violence of Hiroshima and the shock-and-awe horrors inside the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib are merely a matter of degree. The myth allows the world’s most powerful nation to go to war as a victim after the tragic beheadings of only a small number of civilians. Meanwhile, the drone deaths of children at a wedding party are seen as unfortunate but only collateral damage in service to the goal of defeating global terrorism itself. It is a grim calculus that parses acts of violence to conclude some are morally justified simply based on who held the knife.

    We may, in fact, think we are practically doing the people of Afghanistan a favor by killing some of them, as we believe we did for tens of thousands of Japanese that might have been lost in a land invasion of their home islands to otherwise end World War Two. There is little debate in the “war on terror” because debate is largely unnecessary; the myth of Hiroshima says an illusion of expediency wipes away any concerns over morality. And with that neatly tucked away in our conscience, all that is left is pondering where to strike next.

    Japan, too, is guilty of failing to look deep into itself over its own wartime atrocities. Yet compared to the stunning array of atrocities during and since World War Two, the world’s only use of nuclear weapons still holds a significant place in infamy. To try and force the Japanese government to surrender (and no one in 1945 knew if the plan would work) by making it watch mass casualties of innocents, and then to hold the nation hostage to future attacks with the promise of more bombs to come, speaks to a cruelty previously unseen.

    For President Obama to visit Hiroshima without reflecting on the why of that unfortunate loss of lives, acting as if they occurred via some natural disaster, is tragically consistent with the fact that for 71 years no American president felt it particularly important to visit the victimized city. America’s lack of introspection over one of the 20th century’s most significant events continues, with 21st century consequences.




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  • On the Ethics of Hell

    June 15, 2017 // 14 Comments

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    Posted in: Hooper's War

    flyers



    Japan absorbed WWII. The collective memory was tidied up. Little is taught about the war in modern Japanese schools, and even less of what is taught is true. There seems no reason to bring up all those bad deeds and rotten memories. For the most part, the Japanese created their own alternate history of the war.


    Vivisection

    So it is all the more shocking that a Japanese university opened a museum acknowledging that its staff performed vivisections on a handful of downed American airmen (above) during World War II. The incident has been previously documented by both sides of the war, but the very public and ongoing acknowledgement of the atrocity at the site where it was committed is quite unusual for Japan.

    The newly-opened museum at Kyushu University explains how eight U.S. POWs were taken to the center’s medical school in Fukuoka after their plane was shot down in May 1945. The flyers were subjected to horrific medical experiments. Doctors dissected one soldier’s brain to see if epilepsy could be controlled by surgery, and removed parts of the livers of other prisoners as part of tests to see if they would survive. Another soldier was injected with seawater, in an experiment to see if it could be used instead of sterile saline solution to help dehydration.

    The airmen so tortured were aboard a B-29 on a bombing raid over Fukuoka. They all bailed out when their aircraft was rammed by a Japanese fighter.


    Firebombing

    The ethics of hell come into play when we think a bit on what those flyers were doing in the skies over Fukuoka: dropping bombs in hopes of burning, shredding or maiming as many Japanese as possible.

    The U.S. at this late stage of the war was as a strategy not discriminating between “military” and “civilian” targets, and often conducted mass firebombing raids over cities. Thousands of incendiaries were dropped simultaneously in hopes of creating a firestorm, a conflagration that burned hot and long enough to literally suck the oxygen out of the air and kill everything beneath it.

    I have a history of the war on my bookshelf that makes quite a point of being horrified, with no obvious irony, that when the Japanese captured another group of shot-down B-29 crewman from firebombing missions, the flyers were burned alive in an impromptu fire; some others were killed with boiling water. It says elsewhere a negotiated peace was impossible when one side was fighting for civilization and the other represented barbarism.

    Same kind of thing in an actual description from another book of one of the terrible things that happened in the Pacific War: “As the bodies started to sizzle, their arms and legs twitched, and they sat up as if they were alive. Smoke came out of their eye sockets, their mouths opened, and licks of flames came out. Their lungs were full of steam, and hissing noises came out.”

    Did that description come from the firebombing of a Japanese city, or from the burning alive of American prisoners? It was one of the two, though it describes both, but how does that matter?




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  • Review: Hooper’s War: An Imaginative Retelling of the End of World War II

    June 14, 2017 // 1 Comment

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    W.J. Astore, on Bracing Views, reviewing Hooper’s War. You can read the whole review at his site, but this paragraph sums up much of what I am trying to say in the book:

    Nothing good can come from prolonging such a war, and in Van Buren’s retelling, atrocities and tragedies occur with a frequency one would expect of a war driven by racial hatreds and profound cultural misunderstandings. Nevertheless, in the darkness he provides a ray of hope as Lieutenant Nate Hooper, the main character, becomes separated from his unit and has to deal on an intimately human level with a Japanese sergeant. I don’t think I give away much by stating their relationship doesn’t end well for all — such is the reality of a war driven by hatred. The horror of war goes deep, Van Buren shows us, but so too does the potential for mitigating and ultimately for overcoming it.


    Buy Hooper’s War today on Amazon!


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  • Review – Hooper’s War, My War

    June 13, 2017 // 8 Comments

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    Here’s a new review of my book, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, written by Dr. Rod Deaton. Dr. Deaton has served combat veterans since 2009 in a variety of settings, including at the United State Department of Defense and at the United States Veterans Health Administration.

    His review, below, is what my book is about. Dr. Deaton and I have never met and do not know one another, but his words describe my words as I intended them. If you read this review and it resonates with you, please go on to read my book. This is, to me, a perfect description in a few hundred words what I tried to convey in my few hundred pages.


    The Review

    A longer piece today, reviewing a book well worth reading.

    In Peter Van Buren’s book, Hooper’s War (Luminis Books, 2017), history changes. Yet history never changes, even when it does.

    What might have happened had the atomic bomb never been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? he asks. Had the Allies invaded Japan instead, taking first the southern island of Kyushu, establishing then a beachhead on the main island of Honshu? Had the ancient capital of Kyoto, until that point spared aerial attack, become the scene of a firebombing that would leave behind nothing but ash posing as February snow, to be taken up by the wind and then returned in torrents of black rain upon a teen-aged American soldier screaming, “Get it off me, get it off me. It’s people, get it off me.”?

    What might have happened had a ninety-year-old American tourist, years later, stopped hearing that boy’s cries?


    While visiting a Buddhist temple north of Kyoto in 2017, former Lieutenant Nathaniel Hooper tells an elderly Japanese women he meets there that he had “outlived them all, and usually in a war that means I won.” She doesn’t seem to mind: she is there to talk to ghosts, after all, the spirits of her two children, while pouring water onto one of the many small Buddhas scattered throughout the garden, comforting souls that had years before thirsted until the heat had finally consumed them.

    It is the image of that old American man that sticks with me: his bending down toward those small statues outside the one temple that had managed to survive not only earthquakes, but also heavenly conflagrations, the shrine having been scuffed around the edges only by some, shall we say, fateful artillery fire. His then reaching into his pocket, his pulling out a yellowed scrap.

    My wife refused to return to Kyoto herself, but insisted I do something for her, after her death. Doctors say someone can’t technically die of a broken heart, but I know better. It just takes a long time. So my final obligation in Kyoto was to leave behind an old photo of two Japanese children. I’d helped take care of it for 70 years, but it was never mine. It was a treasured possession of hers, and it needed to return home, before the next change of season. They were together. It had just taken a long time.

    “Words were all I had,” Hooper tells us. And so Van Buren adds words to that image, moving backwards in time as his American protagonist encounters Naoko Matsumoto, the woman with whom he shared those seventy years, and Sergeant Eichi Nakagawa, the man for whom, perhaps, he did.

    For in the end, whatever each man did, he did for her.

    Hooper’s War is anything but a romance. It is not an action thriller, either. It’s not the ending at the beginning that matters, after all. It’s the beginning at the end.

    Van Buren calls it a tale of “moral injury,” the au courant psychological term for what War does to a man’s, a woman’s soul. I’ve heard that some are trying to quantify the term these days. Data is always so helpful when it comes time for reports to the Budget Office. That means we won. I think.

    Words can only qualify an image, however, not replace it. Van Buren makes no promises otherwise. Yet with his words, he delivers, such as when the American soldier and the Japanese soldier play chess, literally and figuratively, mediated by the words and the heart of the young Japanese woman, fully bilingual, fully willing to live out the values that both men would have preferred had remained hidden in the pasts of southern Japan or middle America, pasts that Van Buren slowly unfolds for the reader, until youth is rediscovered, histories that will never again be.


    And it was at that moment of discovery, in the final pages of the novel, that Hooper’s War became mine.

    If as a practicing psychiatrist all I do is hear the wars of others, if I do nothing to make some small part of their War my own, then really I’m just a cleaned-up version of “First Warrant Officer Rand, 20th Army Air Force, strategic bomb damage assessment branch, acting deputy chief assistant assessor”—by the way, also a high school math teacher from Nebraska.

    “So, Rand, you’re saying [all this destruction] is good?” [asked Hooper.]

    “No sir, not good,” Rand said. “I’d have to score it pretty close to perfect to be honest about it. Almost nothing left standing. That’s an achievement.”

    “If you’re so smart, Rand, tell me, why are there so many logs blocking up the river? What caused that?” I said.

    “Oh, those aren’t logs, Lieutenant.”

    Yet in Van Buren’s book, it was not the Nate, Naoko, and Eichi outside Nishinomiya Station, south of Kyoto, who first claimed me.

    No, first it was a Japanese housewife, whom I met briefly in the closing pages of the book.

    My father told me [Eichi] that because Japan had freed Korea and China from the west, our markets were flooded with new goods from those faraway places. Mother especially loved the Korean plums, quietly insisting they were juicier than Japanese ones, even as my father would shush her for fear a neighbor might overhear her being what he said was disloyal.

    Then it was some (likely) high-school track coach from, of all places, Reeve, Ohio.

    I [Nate] was 14-years-old in December 1941, sitting in an overheated classroom hearing about Sherman’s Burning of Atlanta and Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, asking my equally bored teacher numbing questions about why we had to learn this stuff. Every minute dragged like a week’s worth of Mondays.

    The novel made War mine through these passing mentions of adults who, without much thought, were living what they were living because someone else, somewhere, had died to give them that opportunity, both soldier and civilian.

    The dead aren’t that choosy, one way or the other, which side they might once have been on. Plums, classrooms, all the same to them.

    I am Eichi’s mother, Nate’s teacher. I am the one who has eaten those plums in those classrooms, who even now nibbles on a sticky bun in a quiet bed and breakfast as my Twitter feed narrates more deaths in Afghanistan, acknowledges final words uttered somewhere, whether in English or inDari.

    I live in my Society. I profit from my Society. My Society has sent troops to other Societies, for reasons good or ill, depending on whose viewpoint you assume.

    Either way, I have therefore sent them there as well

    In his “alternative universe,” Van Buren has forced me to to realize: I too am morally injured. Even more, I have morally injured. Yes, I still can enjoy a rose garden and a Lake Michigan breeze. Yet I don’t get a pass, either.

    Neither Lieutenant Hooper nor Sergeant Nakagawa indict me, their families, their Societies for the acts they themselves, as soldiers, committed or did not commit. They chose their fates as much as they were chosen by them, and they lived with those choices—and died with them.

    Yet, somehow, I cannot but feel indictment, not from the young men in wartime Japan, perhaps, but rather from a boy who had his picture taken with a girl years before, when they had both enjoyed Sakuma, the fruit drops in the metal tin, made in the factory so far away from their hometown. From a boy in Ohio who “left the house in the morning always knowing [he’d] be back in time to wash up for supper.”

    Those two boys–and the girl whom, at different times in different worlds, they together loved–they say to me, “You, Dr. Deaton, you helped make this story. We were merely playing our parts, understudies to much older folks like yourself, taking direction, falling on cue.”

    The Buddhas, the old man, the photograph, quiet Japanese villages and rustic Ohio towns: may the images last with me, even longer than the words. Thank you, Mr. Van Buren, for having, in Hooper’s War, given both to us all.




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  • Understanding the Cost of War: Moral Injury

    June 12, 2017 // 10 Comments

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    “My guilt will never go away,” former Marine Matthew Hoh explained to me. “There is a significant portion of me that doesn’t believe it should be allowed to go away, that this pain is fair.”

     

    If America accepts the idea of fighting endless wars, it will have to accept something else as well: that the costs of war are similarly endless. I’m thinking about the trillions of dollars, the million or more “enemy” dead (including civilians of every imaginable sort), the tens of thousands of American combat casualties, those 20 veteran suicides each day, and the diminished lives of those who survive them all. There’s that pain, carried by an unknown number of women and men, that won’t go away, ever, and that goes by the label “moral injury.”

     

    The Lasting Pain of War

    When I started my new novel, Hooper’s War, a what-if about the end of World War II in the Pacific, I had in mind just that pain. I was thinking — couldn’t stop thinking, in fact — about what really happens to people in war, combatants and civilians alike. The need to tell that story grew in large part out of my own experiences in Iraq, where I spent a year embedded with a combat unit as a U.S. State Department employee, and where I witnessed, among so many other horrors, two soldier suicides.

    The new book began one day when Facebook retrieved photos of Iraqi children I had posted years ago, with a cheery “See Your Memories” caption on them. Oh yes, I remembered. Then, on the news, I began seeing places in Iraq familiar to me, but this time being overrun by Islamic State militants or later being re-retaken with the help of another generation of young Americans. And I kept running into people who’d been involved in my war and were all too ready to share too many drinks and tell me too much about what I was already up all too many nights thinking about.

    As these experiences morphed first into nightmares and then into the basis for research, I found myself speaking with ever more veterans of ever more wars who continued to suffer in ways they had a hard time describing, but which they wrestled with everyday. I realized that I understand them, even as they seemed to be trying to put their feelings into words for the first time. Many of them described how they had entered the battle zones convinced that “we’re the good guys,” and then found the depth of guilt and shame that followed when that sense didn’t survive the test of events.

    Sometimes they were remarkably articulate, sometimes anything but. It seemed not to matter which war we were talking about — or whether I was reading a handwritten diary from the Korean War, an oral history of the Pacific War, or an old bestseller about a conflict ironically labeled “the Good War,” — because the story always seemed to be the same: decisions made in seconds that lasted lifetimes, including the uncomfortable balancing of morality and expediency in situations in which a soldier might believe horrific acts like torture could save lives, or accept civilian causalities in pursuit of military objectives. In war, you were always living in a world in which no action seemed ideal and yet avoiding acting was often inconceivable.

     

    PTSD and Moral Injury

    Matthew Hoh, that former Marine, now a veterans advocate, introduced me to the phrase “moral injury,” though the term is usually attributed to clinical psychiatrist Jonathan Shay. Shay coined it in 1991 while working for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    We are, of course, beings with a complex sense of right and wrong, which can be messed with in disastrous ways. There are boundaries inside us that can’t be crossed without a great price being paid. Though the term moral injury is fairly new, especially outside military circles, the idea is as old as war. When people sent into conflict find their sense of right and wrong tested when they violate deeply held convictions by doing something (such as killing a civilian in error) or failing to do something (such as not reporting a war crime.) They suffer an injury to their core being.

    Examples of this phenomenon are relatively commonplace in popular culture. Think of scenes from Tim O’Brien’s iconic Vietnam War book, The Things They Carried, William Manchester’s World War II odyssey, Goodbye Darkness, William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, or films like William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives and Oliver Stone’s Platoon.

    You can find similar examples as far back as the Iliad and as recently as late last night. Lisa Ling, a former Air Force technical sergeant who worked in America’s armed drone program before turning whistleblower, was perhaps typical when she told the makers of the documentary film National Bird that, in helping carry out drone strikes which killed people across the globe by remote control, “I lost part of my humanity.”

    Once upon a time, society expressed skepticism or worse toward such formulations, calling those who emerged visibly suffering from the acts of war “cowards” or dismissing them as fakes and frauds. Yet today Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a widely acknowledged illness that can be identified by MRI tests.

    PTSD and moral injury often occur together — “I think having both PTSD and moral injury are the normal things for us,” says Ling of those in the drone program. Moral injury, however, takes place at the intersection of psychology and spirituality, and so is, in a sense, all in someone’s head. When experiencing moral injury, a person wields guilt and/or shame as a self-inflicted penalty for a choice made. PTSD is more physical, more fear-based, and often a more direct response to an event or events witnessed in war.

    Think of it this way: PTSD is more likely to result from seeing something terrible, moral injury from having caused something terrible.

     

    Civilians, Too

    Moral injury doesn’t just affect soldiers, but civilians, too. Noncombatants are not just victims or targets, but are often complex participants in war. This reality led me, as my book developed, to interview now-elderly Japanese who had experienced World War II as children. They described the horrific choices they faced, even at a young age. In a wartime landscape of hunger, survival often depended on small, grim acts that would never be forgotten.

    Sometimes, I sensed in talking to them, as in interviewing former soldiers, that the psychic injuries of wartime don’t end until the sufferers do. Moral injury turns out to be a debt that often can never be repaid.

    Those survivors of the end of the war in Japan who got the food had to pay a price for knowing what happened to those who didn’t. In a landscape ravaged by war, just because something wasn’t your fault doesn’t mean it won’t be your responsibility. An act as simple as which of her children a mother offered a disappearing supply of water to first could mean the difference between life and death. And though, in truth, it might have been impossible, in such circumstances and at such an age to know that you were responsible for the death of your sister or brother, 70 years later you might still be thinking about it with an almost unbearable sense of guilt.

    And here’s a small footnote: Did you know that it’s possible to sit quietly on a modern Tokyo park bench, perfectly aware of whose distant relatives and countrymen dropped the bombs that took away the water that forced that mother to make the decision, and still shamefully continue taking notes, saying nothing as you witness someone else’s breakdown?

     

    The Trip Back

    What help can there be for something so human?

    There are, of course, the bad answers, all-too-often including opioids and alcohol. But sufferers soon learn that such substances just send the pain off to ambush you at another moment, and yet, as many told me, you may still look forward to the morning’s first throat-burning shot of something strong. Drinking and drugs have a way, however temporarily, of wiping out hours of pain that may stretch all the way back to the 1940s. You drink in the dark places, even after you understand that in the darkness you can see too much.

    Tragically, suicide is never far from moral injury. The soul isn’t that big a place.

    One former soldier told me he’s never forgiven his neighbor for talking him out of going into the garage with his rifle. Another said the question wasn’t why he might commit suicide, but why he hadn’t. Someone knows vets who have a “designated driver,” a keeper not of the car keys but of their guns during emotional rough patches.

    The Department of Veterans Affairs counts a stunning average of 20 veteran suicides a day in America. About 65% of those are individuals 50 years old or older with little or no exposure to the country’s twenty-first-century conflicts. No one tracks the suicide rate for civilians who survive war, but it’s hard to imagine that it isn’t high as well. The cause of all of those deaths can’t, of course, be tracked to any one thing, but the pain that grows out of moral injury is patient, the equivalent of a slow dripping of water that just adds to whatever else is going on.

    For such sufferers, however, progress is being made, even if the trip back is as complex as the individual. The Department of Veterans Affairs now acknowledges moral injury and its effects, and in 2014 Syracuse University created the Moral Injury Project to bring together vets, doctors, and chaplains to work on how to deal with it. In the meantime, psychologists are developing diagnostic assessment tools for what some call “soul repair.”

    One effective path back seems to be through helping patients sort out just what happened to them and, when it comes to transgressions, what part of those may be their own responsibility (though not necessarily their own fault). What doesn’t work, according to Matthew Hoh, is trying to convince veterans who view themselves as damaged that, in the present American manner, they are really heroes.

    Others suffering moral injury may try to deal with it by seeking forgiveness.

    Drone combatant Lisa Ling, for example, traveled to Afghanistan, with a desire to truly grasp her role in a drone program that regularly killed its victims from thousands of miles away. To her surprise, during an encounter with the relatives of some civilian victims of such drone strikes, she was forgiven by them. “I didn’t ask for forgiveness,” Ling told me of her role in the drone program, “because what I did was unforgivable.”

    “Like all of us,” she added, “I spent time on the mission floor, or at briefings where I saw and heard devastating things, or blatant lies, but to actually connect my individual work to single events wasn’t possible due to the diffusion of responsibility. For sensor operators, it is more like stepping on ants. For analysts, they get to know people over time. As watchers and listeners they describe an intimacy that comes with predictably knowing their family patterns. Kissing the kids, taking children to school, and then seeing these same people die.”

    Killing by remote control requires many hands. Ling worked on databases and it networking. Analysts studied the information in those databases to recommend humans to target. Sensor operators manipulated lasers to pinpoint where a drone pilot would eventually slam his missile home for the kill.

     

    Moral Injury and Whistleblowers

    Another way back is for the sufferer to try to rebalance the internal scales a little by making amends of some sort. To do so involves trying to alter or transform acts already committed. In the case of moral injury, this can often mean drawing a line between who one was then and who one might be now. Think of it as an attempt to re-inscribe those internal borders that were transgressed so long ago.

    Perhaps not so surprisingly, the connections between moral injury and whistleblowing, like those between moral injury and suicide, appear to run deep.

    For example, Iraq War whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s decision to leak video of civilian deaths caused by members of the U.S. military may have been her version of amends, driven by guilt over silently witnessing those and other war crimes. Among the acts she saw, for instance, was a raid on a printing facility that had been billed as an al-Qaeda location but wasn’t. The U.S. military had, in fact, been tricked into shutting down the work of political opponents of Iraq’s then-prime minister Nouri al Maliki. Until Manning finally tells her story, this remains speculative, but I was at the same forward operating base in Iraq she was and know what happened and how it affected me, as well as the others around us.

    Whistleblowers (and I was one of them) talk of conscience, of a realization we were part of something that was wrong. Jonathan Shay suggests that the failure of moral agency does not have to rest with the individual alone. It can involve witnessing a betrayal of “what’s right” by a person in legitimate authority.

    That part of moral injury could help explain one of the most significant whistleblowers of our time. In talking about his reasons for blowing the whistle, Edward Snowden invoked questions of right and wrong when it came to the actions of senior American government officials. It would be a worthy question to put to Snowden: How much guilt and shame — the hallmarks of moral injury — do you retain from having been part of the surveillance state, and how much was your whistleblowing driven by trying to rid yourself of it?

    After all, for those suffering from moral injury, the goal is always the same: to somehow reclaim the good parts of oneself and to accept — but not be eternally defined by — what one did or didn’t do.

    I know, because for me, this is so much more than fiction.

     

    My War at Home

    “You mean that Vietnam helicopter thing?” A well-meaning family doctor asked me when I got back from Iraq in 2010, referring to scenes from war movies where the angry vet overreacts to the noise of a helicopter, sending him “back to the jungle.” No, no, far more than that, I responded, and told him a little about my sorry role in administering reconstruction projects in Iraq and how it left me more interested in vodka than my family. That was my own personal taste of moral injury, of a deeply felt failure to accomplish any of the good I’d hoped to do, let down by senior leaders I once believed in. It’s why I tell the story in Hooper’s War in reverse order, opening with a broken Nate Hooper in his late eighties finally finding a form of redemption for the events of a few weeks at war when he was 18. By moving toward an innocent boy as far away in rural Ohio as one can be from war, I felt I was working through my own experience of the damage war causes deep inside the self.

    About the costs of war: is a quick death better than a slow one? A widow with one child versus a widow left with five mouths to feed? A soldier who leaves his brains on the wall in the den ten years after the peace treaty versus one who brought his body home but left his mind ten thousand miles away? What price did each pay? How do you count those costs?

    We are left knowing the price of endless war is beyond calculation. We simply become a society surrounded by costs, the financial, the ones in blood, and the ones we can’t see that tear apart men and women we welcome home. The nasty conclusion is that moral injury scales: our endless wars may indeed have left all of us, a society that cannot stop itself from making war, among the casualties.

     

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  • Review: Hooper’s War an “Allegory of Hauntingly Memorable Ethical Power”

    June 11, 2017 // 0 Comments

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    In a new review of Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, author and veteran Pete Free writes:

    Peter Van Buren’s Hooper’s War is an early 21st century American allegory of understated, but hauntingly memorable ethical power… a masterpiece of sparsely worded brevity.

    What is foreseeable in war is its unavoidable escalation of the brutality that lives in us. Wisdom, therefore, counsels against beginning combat, absent genuinely existential justifications. It is in over-expanding the scope of what is existence-threatening that we fall into moral and strategic error.

    Hooper’s War illustrates the first concept (escalating brutality) more than the latter (maintaining a sensibly core scope of vital national interests). But the allegory’s frequent use of early 21st century American English — and, by implication, the history of U.S. warmongering since World War II — remind us that Van Buren’s focus is actually on what happened after we addictively tasted the national power inherent in dropping Little Boy and Fat Man (among other things) on Japan.

    In using his alternative history (meaning conventional war only) format, Van Buren bypassed the moral obfuscation that the expansive nature of atomic weapons brings with them. It is not the fission and fusion weapons that comprise the evil of modern war, he implies. It is the instinct-activated brutality that already lies within us, regardless of the weapons we use.

    See the full review for more!



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  • The Actual Order for the Bombing of Hiroshima (With Bonus Children’s Death Count!)

    June 10, 2017 // 6 Comments

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    Here’s the actual operations order that launched the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, along with a sample of the results: a compilation of how many school children the U.S. killed that day! (click to enlarge)




    And one lucky survivor!





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  • Propaganda: Imperial Japan and Modern Day

    June 9, 2017 // 10 Comments

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    beheading


    There are basically only two messages in propaganda: our side is good, strong and will win, and their side is evil, weak and will lose. Everything else is just music and narration.


    So to demonstrate how little propaganda statements towards whomever happens to be America’s enemy of the time change, let’s have a look at the 1943 propaganda film here, made to help stir up Americans for the long fight ahead to defeat Imperial Japan during World War II. Everybody likes Japan now, but remember the country that now makes our anime, manga and weird porn used to want to conquer us, even going as far as beheading hostages (sound familiar?)

    The Video



    What We Learn

    In the video we learn many things about the evil Japanese (and ISIS):

    — They are fighting a “Holy War” against the West (no change with ISIS);

    — They are trying to establish a world government with everyone living their austere, Emperor-worshipping lifestyle, with their harsh laws (substitute Caliphate);

    — They fight “fanatically,” and are willing to give their lives for the Emperor, believing Shinto paradise awaits them (substitute Allah and the same Paradise, less virgins on the Japanese side);

    — You “cannot measure the way Japanese think by any Western standard. While their weapons are modern, their thinking and beliefs are 2000 years out of date” (no change with ISIS);

    — The Japanese believe they have a “sacred duty” to fight for the Emperor against all others (ISIS, infidels, Allah, you get it)

    — They are “fanatics, and we must kill them before they destroy our way of life” (no change with ISIS);

    — The Japanese are not nice to their women (no change with ISIS);

    — They hate us (no change with ISIS);

    — They behead hostages (no change with ISIS)



    The Long Con

    Now, this all begs the question: if the core propaganda messages the U.S. government promoted during World War II are nearly identical to those pushed out today via the mass media about ISIS, does that tell us something? Is it that our enemies, as varied as Imperial Japan and ISIS across some sixty-five years of conflicts, are just so much alike, or is it that when America needs a villain, it goes to the same playbook? After all, what works, works.


    Why reinvent the scam?



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